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.