And then, I received a surprise. There was a famous author coming to our town and my parents were insistent on taking me to hear him speak, sickness be damned. I was intrigued by their prioritizing. The author was Ray Bradbury.
The name Ray Bradbury wasn't completely foreign to me. I had heard vague whispers of him as the author of Fahrenheit 451 (a very cool sounding title to a preadolescent boy) and a girl in my English class had just done a book report on The Martian Chronicles. Everything about him seemed otherworldly.
During his talk, typically titled "One Thousand and One Ways to Solve the Future," I remember scanning the cavernous Shriver Hall on the Johns Hopkins campus and feeling immense pride that I was unmistakably the youngest audience member present. Bradbury was engaging, humourous, and insightful. He spoke of his experiences establishing the Epcot Center in Florida and the upside and downside of fame. He peppered his talk with predictions of the future (particularly with what the internet would be able to do) and gave us a prescient glimpse as to what a Mars colony would look like.
But the thing I'll remember most of his talk was his undeniable and unabashed humanist message. He warned against over-reliance on technology at the expense of interpersonal interaction -- pointing out that we can program machines to do everything except love. Looking back, that speech must have been my orientation into my humanistic worldview. In spite of all the luxuries and gadgets the modern world provides us, the most important is something we've had all along, each other.
I had an aisle seat that evening, and when Bradbury completed his talk, he walked up my aisle on his way to the lobby. As he passed, his arm momentarily came down gently on my shoulder like he was happy to see me.