Of the many obituaries and appreciations sparked by the death of beloved, influential author Ray Bradbury at 91, few are as affecting -- and as pertinent -- as the one by Bradbury's biographer Sam Weller, who called him "a mentor, father, and friend to me," in Slate.
He recalls Bradbury's favorite childhood story (from Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews), about his first encounter with the circus -- an event that, he says, changed his life. At 12, in 1932, he was mesmerized by "Mr. Electrico," whose hair stood on end as lightning flashed in his eyes as 50,000 volts of electricity surged through the electric chair in which he was sitting. At one point in the act, the performer tapped young Bradbury and said, "Live forever!"
The next day, Bradbury raced back to the circus instead of attending a relative's funeral. He wound up talking magic with Mr. Electrico -- and getting a behind-the-scenes introduction to many performers, including the tattooed man (whom Bradbury would rename The Illustrated Man), and other future characters.
The electric man then surprised him by claiming Bradbury was the reincarnation of the man's late soldier friend, who'd died in WWI: "You have a different face, a different name, but the soul shining out of your face is the same as my friend. Welcome back." (Read the Slate link to get the full impact of this anecdote.)
Bradbury -- whom Weller said "retained a childlike sense of wonder" to the end, said: "When I left the carnival that day I stood by the carousel and I watched the horses running around and around to the music of "Beautiful Ohio" and I cried. Tears streamed down my cheeks because I knew something important had happened to me that day because of Mr. Electrico. I felt changed. And so I went home and within days I started to write. And I've never stopped. Isn't that amazing?"
What a memory to preserve. Bradbury's tale inspires some terrific questions to ask those looking back on a long life (or to ask yourself): What moment(s) changed your life? Did any strange and wonderful things happen that altered everything that happened after?
Image by Flickr user uflinks, used under a Creative Commons license.