Love, Science Fiction and Understanding

I lived in a small town (Kiama, New South Wales, Australia) which had, for me, too small a library. It consisted of three sections:
  • children
  • adult non-fiction and
  • adult fiction.
{{Information |Description=Ames Memorial Library, North Easton, Massachusetts, USA. H. H. Richardson, architect. Interior view from 2nd floor of stacks. |Source=self-made |Date=May 5, 2007. |Author=User:Daderot }}
{{Information |Description=Ames Memorial Library, North Easton, Massachusetts, USA. H. H. Richardson, architect. Interior view from 2nd floor of stacks. |Source=self-made |Date=May 5, 2007. |Author=User:Daderot }}
As a child I worked my way through the children’s book section. I enjoyed children’s books (and still do) especially the child version of the Greek myths. Once I exhausted that I began the non-fiction section. I can remember reading The Peter Principle which was hilarious although I didn’t know why. I also read Kluber-Ross On Death and Dying which was was a very difficult if not an entirely comforting read.

I then ran out of books to read. Only the fiction section left. Which left me in a quandary. It was the fiction section or another library. Up until then the only adult fiction I had seen were the books my mother had borrowed. With few exceptions, they were detective fiction. I can remember trying to read one or two of them. They weren’t engaging at all. Had my mother been a fan of spy fiction, my life may have turned out differently!So I’m standing in the library choosing my next book. And it has to be fiction. And it came down to detective fiction (in my mind’s eye most of the remaining books) or science fiction. Science fiction won by default. And I became immersed. Asimov, Clarke, etc, all brilliant minds and spellbinding story tellers. Then I discovered Ray Bradbury. I read his short stories first. I loved, still can remember and tell, his classic “Sound of Thunder”. Then I discovered his amazing novella Fahrenheit 451. The setting was familiar but the story was unique.

Fahrenheit 451 is set in a dystopian future which chillingly now resembles the present. The story centres on a fireman called Montag who doesn’t put out fires, he starts them to burn books. But it wasn’t his character that fascinated me. It was Clarisse McClennan, a teenage misfit who finds Montag out.

As a teenager I thought his depiction of a relationship between a 17 year old girl and a 30 something fireman as follows quite fictional: “He felt she was walking in a circle about him, turning him end for end, shaking him quietly, and emptying his pockets without once moving herself.” (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451). How could it be possible for someone, anyone to find out another’s unexpressed innermost thoughts? How can anyone listen to another that way? Yet how beautiful such an understanding of heart would be!

And then it happened to me! I was found out. I still don’t know how. I had managed to keep my innermost thoughts and feelings sealed.  Like Clarisse again….”How rarely did other people’s faces take of you and throw back to you your own expression, your own innermost trembling thought?…” (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451).

And this person glimpsed something more within me. And I saw the same. But little came of it. We parted, I tried to keep in contact and it was lost. And so was I. It had never happened to me before: yet I knew that this was what I always had ever wanted : my reason to live and my passion to love.  I thought it would never happen again. I simply put the episode aside as a random touch. I covered it over and tried to forget about it.

Since then only a small handful of people since have glimpsed me beyond that barrier. And then only momentarily.

And then it happened again. So unexpectedly that in the middle of it, I felt woken from a long nap and shocked into reality. I remembered what was happening and how it matched the past. But it went beyond that : it deepened and expanded like an ocean without horizons. What I slowly realised that this time I was listening that way too. I found out that through my stillness people would express their innermost thoughts.

Just like Clarisse…“She was like the eager watcher of a marionette show, anticipating each flicker of an eyelid, each gesture of his hand, each flick of a finger, the moment before it began…He felt that if his eye itched, she might blink. And if the muscles of his jaws stretched imperceptibly, she would yawn long before he would.” (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451).

I still identify with those words and the character that spoke them. I still feel that I’m in a science fiction novel : inhabiting a world of people so at times so unlike me and seemingly removed from who I am.

And like Clarisse from Fahrenheit 451, my life’s yearning is to seek that connection and nurture and keep it if I can. But it’s so rare, that when it happens (as Chrissie Amphlett of the Divinyls sings) it can’t be of this world.

But isn’t that the understanding that everyone needs?

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