“A Softness of Compassion”


[“Feeding Seagulls”; Tengelfjord, Norway, 2015]

Lately I’ve been thinking about a Ray Bradbury short story I must have read fifty years ago. Here’s how I remember it: a man pays an enormous amount of money to time-travel. At the time of his back-through-eons trip, a fierce presidential campaign wages; it pits a blowhard, right-wing, bullying, hate-monger versus a peace/love candidate. And the peace/love candidate is way ahead in the polls.

Now, this time-traveler had been repeatedly cautioned by the people operating the time machine not to leave a specially designated boardwalk. ( I can’t remember where he traveled—the Jurassic Period, maybe?) But, of course, he does step off the wooden path. And accidentally steps on a small insect. When he returns to his own time period, he’s amazed to discover that the bully is now a clear front-runner. The language he’d spoken had also morphed.

Bradbury explains why the bully won (He probably explained why language had radically changed, too, but I never understood that bit): The death of that one insect began a chain of depressing events, beginning with the subsequent death of  another creature—a bird, perhaps—that had depended on that particular insect for its survival and then . . .  And thus unfolded an alternative world dominated by an abiding sense of Not Enough. Deprivation. Fear. Might Makes Right. Me First.

Is it possible that, post 9/11, many now believe we live in that same mean, selfish, dog-eat-dog world Bradbury so insightfully created, a world so fear-filled that a bully could be seen a savior?

I wonder.

*From Elizabeth Strout’s excellent My Name is Lucy Barton (And, by the way, this softness was viewed with revulsion by one character.) 




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  1. Ah, yes, “The Sound of Thunder,” by Ray Bradbury, one of his most powerful and haunting stories. For many years I taught it to students and had them reflect on the many ethical questions.

    So tragic and absurd to see us “returning” to many destructive ways.

    However don’t forget–in the midst of the media frenzy–Steven Pinker’s enlightening book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, where he gives plenty of evidence that despite dips like now, overall, war and violence and cruelty and injustice continue to lessen in human history.

  2. Dear Patricia,

    Hi, there, Patricia, my so, so very dearly precious and dearly special sisterfriend who you are For Always so, so very much! Sister, wow, wow, wow and wow and wow and a zillion wows here! This is a very, very fascinating and interesting blog post article of yours, my friend! What a superb title for this blog post article, and what a super picture of the hungry, beautiful seagull very eagerly and delightfully getting its yummy treat! Thank-you so, so much for this great link which you very graciously and generously provided being very informative reading, Patricia. Sister, I googled this intriguing short story by Ray Bradbury in order to find the title of this fantabulous short story, and to find it on the Internet in order to very joyfully read it, my so very dearest friend. I was just so very thrilled and overjoyed that I was able to find it on the Internet. It was a very cool and seemingly unworldly read that in some ways proved to be kind of scary. What a fantastic story of simultaneous time travel with the accompanying parallel realities of multiple eras occurring all at once paralleling themselves through the people’s lives in this great story. Bradbury is brilliant here in how he writes with such descriptive clarity about the dominoes connecting to each succeeding domino being very much indeed like how each act a person does starts off a chain reaction of effects and events influencing and impacting other people, sister.. Eckels so sadly found out by his very careless act in having his feet touch the forbidden grass just how fateful and irreversible his seemingly innocent and unintentional act proved to be.

    This cool story is very true to life in some ways in how it shows that we are all interconnected and in our very interdependency we each affect one another creating an ongoing impact for future events affecting persons, sisterfriend. How Eckels unwittingly caused the blowhard, right wing bully to become President by his far from innocuous albeit unintentional act reminds me of the risk we are at in our very country, sister, of an unmentionable bully and blowhard whom we have both given up for Lent having the very real possibility of becoming our next President!!!!!!! UGH!!!!!!! Hopefully, this won’t happen, though!!!!!!!!!

    I so very much enjoy Daniel’s comment above where her shares and declares from Steven Pinker’s insightful book entitled, The Better Angels of Our Nature, how Pinker has such a positive and optimistic faith and hope in his observation that war, violence, cruelty, and injustice continue to gradually decline as such deleterious effects in our humankind’s history, Patricia. I, too, share the very same concerns that you do, Patricia, in how I wonder if some of the more unpleasant and self-seeking aspects of some people in our country and some of the very dog-eat-dog mentality which is very prevalent in our country, society, and world may in fact be creating a climate too compatible for a bully to be considered our saviour and to be thought of as a hero of some sort, as someone who can calm the fears and anxieties some folks endure and experience, Patricia. Sisterfriend, wow, wow, wow, wow-what a very astounding and thought-provoking blog post article this is of yours and this story by our Ray Bradbury is just so very cool here, sister!!!!!!! Yay!!!!!!

    Sister, you are just my very, very joy and blessing, Patricia, and so are your very remarkable blog post articles and other writings just as I know that YOU, my so very dear friend, and your brilliant writings are such joys and blessings for your other very grateful and appreciative readers!!!!!! Yay!!!!!! I also have such sheer joy, blessings, and enjoyment very joyously responding to your blog post articles and other writings, and so very joyfully praying daily and very often for you, Patricia, for your Loved One in the long term care facility, for all of the rest of your very special, precious, and beloved family, and for the very blessedly pure in heart folks at your holy and blessed Friends Meeting at Cambridge!!!!!!! What a joy, honor, and blessing it is for me to think of each and every one of you, praying for all of you sending positive energy all of your way, plus I have such fun doing so, Patricia!!!!!! Yay!!!!!!!

    It is Wednesday night now but by the time you see this it will be Thursday so please have a totally terrific and a very thrilling Thursday, a wondrously wonderful weekend coming up, and may all of your days be so, so very especially blessed, Patricia!!!!!!! Yay yay yay yay!!!!!!!

    Very Warmly and Sincerely For Always, my so, so very dearly special white sisterfriend Patricia who you are For Always so, so very much, with such Peace and Love To You For Always my sister Christian, and with such Blessings and Even More Blessings To You For Always, my so very dearest friend,

    Your Christian lesbian black sisterfriend For Always in the very spirit and solidarity, Sherry Gordon

  3. This is a great parable for the age of the Donald. Is there a fable that tells us the consequences of flocking to a leader who gives us the message that it’s okay to defy all we have learned about decency and fairness?

  4. Dear Daniel,

    Hello, there, Daniel! What a so full of wisdom comment which you have made above! It is very interesting reading about how you taught this brilliant story by Ray Bradbury entitled A Sound of Thunder to your classes awhile back, and what a fascinating take on your wonderful class to explore the ethical ramifications this amazing short story has to offer. I am alarmed as well at how our country, society, and world in some ways seem to be returning to destructive ways which prove to be very tragic and absurd as you so sagaciously shared. I, too, think that the amazing book by Steven Pinker sheds some light on our dilemma in this manner, and that overall. war, cruelty, injustice, and violence continue to lesson in our humankind’s history. Thank-you so, Daniel, for your great words here and I so enjoyed your sharing!

    Sincerely Always,

    Sherry Gordon

  5. Dear David,

    Well, hello, there, David! Wow, I so enjoy the absolutely amazing blog post articles For Always of your so very dear wife, Patricia, and I enjoy as well your absolutely fantastic comments which are such gems of wisdom as well! David, I really like your great comment above! This is for sure very much indeed a great fable of the Donald and this short story also in some eerie ways can connect to the danger we have of the right-wing bully and blowhard Donald becoming President(hopefully not and I can feel the nausea at the very typing of that-UGH!!!!!! but I hope, wish, and pray that our Hillary can win!!!!!!!!) just like how in the end the right-wing bully and blowhard became President in this short story. David, I was a Hillary supporter eight years ago as well against Barack Obama. This spectacular fable does very much indeed tell of the dire consequences of flocking to a leader who gives us the message that it’s perfectly alright to defy and blatantly ignore all we have learned about decency and fairness, David. David, I am just so very alarmed at the popular of this horrid Donald by some folks. This is downright petrifying, David. Wow, my brotherfriend David, your comment is so very right on, on point, and very relevant here! Thank-you David for this marvelous sharing here, and for all of your other superbly super comments, my brother!

    Peace and Love To You For Always my brotherfriend, David,

    Sherry Gordon in Iowa City, Iowa

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