You never know if you’re Douglas Adams or Ray Bradbury

Back in March 2000 I saw Douglas Adams and Ray Bradbury speak at Clowes Hall in Indianapolis. Admittedly, I made the three hour drive from college to see Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, but Ray Bradbury was a nice bonus. Douglas Adams was as lively and funny as you’d expect him to be from his writing. He strode purposely across the stage while he read from his books and didn’t sit down once during his presentation.

Then Ray Bradbury came out. He was an elderly, overweight man who was rolled out in a wheel chair. I also think he had an oxygen tank, but my memory might have embroidered that detail on later because I perceived him to be in such poor health. He’d recently had a stroke and was clearly still recovering. Despite all that, he too gave a fascinating presentation about his life and writing experiences. It was a great night and I was very happy I’d managed to make it the event

However, if you’d have asked me which one of these men would be dead within the next 15 months, I would have bet all my money, my car, and my meal card on Ray Bradbury (if I’d owned a car). The man seemed to have his left axel in the grave already. But it was not Ray Bradbury who died in May of the next year; it was Douglas Adams who had a heart attack at age 49.

In the years since then, I’ve occasionally thought of that night and Googled Ray Bradbury to see if he was still live. And up until last Tuesday he always was! That dude just kept on rolling. My browser history proves that I last checked his Wikipedia page in May, less than a month ago. But no one lives forever, and he finally checked out of the planet at age 91, which is almost twice as much time as Douglas Adams got.

The lesson I’ve learned from this is you can’t judge a person’s longevity by their appearance. Douglas Adams may have been bopping happily across the stage, but his arteries were filling with plaque and he had an imminent appointment with the grim reaper. Ray Bradbury had to be wheeled on stage and looked like he was knocking on heaven’s door, but I guess heaven only responds if you push the doorbell.

We may think we’ve got 30, 40, 50 years left to live, but you never know. And even if you’re sickly and ancient, you might just hang in there for another decade or two. Who knows? Life’s short, or long, or somewhere in between. Sometimes I don’t think I’m making the best of it, and I’m reminded that I should because you never know if you’re a Douglas Adams or a Ray Bradbury.

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  1. says

    Very thoughtful. We were so sure that my mother would outlive my father, because he was a two-pack-a-day smoker for 50 years, and only quit when he spent months in the hospital with pneumonia. Yet she died at 58 from an infection, and he lived to be 78. During those last months with my father, I kept thinking of the difficulty of planning when we didn’t know how much time he had left. (Do we hire a $3000/month nurse or will he live long enough to blow through all of his money?) But, honestly, none of us know how much time we have left, and yet we keep planning.

  2. AquaMarine says

    A very poignant piece. My husband completed chemo and radiation about 18 months ago for rectal cancer (he’s cancer free now!). It was my first time ever (and I hope it’s the last) visiting the chemo rooms where treatment was administered. In my naivete I noticed several “healthy looking” and young people receiving chemo. The type of people I’d assume were never sick with a cold much less cancer. I hope that does not sound cruel but I’ve been conditioned to believe that looking fit equates to being healthy and that is not always the case.

    By contrast, my grandmother, who by all accounts would have been considered obese by todays standards and had the dreaded, deadly “apple” shape, lived to be 97 years old. She passed away after breaking her hip when she was knocked over.

    I guess we can never assume things when it comes to health. Certainly not by basing it on looks.

    I guess we should just enjoy every day that is given to us because you never know when it will all end. Unless you think the end time is coming this December 21st!!!!!

  3. Deb K says

    This post resonated with me profoundly, much like a good movie that you find pondering afterwards for a few days. There are milestone moments in life that have reminded me of my mortality and I’ve resolved to live each day more mindfully and meaningfully. But it’s been a long time since I really pondered what do I want to do with my life. I keep thinking of your sentences, “Life’s short, or long, or somewhere in between. Sometimes I don’t think I’m making the best of it, and I’m reminded that I should because you never know if you’re a Douglas Adams or a Ray Bradbury.” Well stated.

  4. Ken Simpson says

    Well said. I was actually in the audience that night and have had the same thoughts ever since Douglas passed away. Thanks for posting!

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