(second photo not mine)
Hello darlings, I’m here to knock your socks off this lovely morning. It’s just after 12:00am. Yup! ;-D
Have you ever read a play called “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder? I have and it’s amazing. It’s beyond amazing. It was produced and published in 1938. It won the Pulitzer Prize.
It takes place in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s.
I first read it when I was twenty – six years old. And whoa am I so beyond pleased that I did. Thank You to Sarah Ban Breathnach for mentioning this play in her book “Simple Abundance”!!!! Sarah Ban Breathnach is another one who has one of the biggest impacts on me with her beautiful writing.
The play is about a young woman, Emily, who dies during childbirth. She’s twenty -six years old. It starts out when she’s a young girl and it’s all about her and her family and friends and all the people in their small village of Grover’s Corners. It’s so small everyone knows each other.
The girl dies at age twenty – six years and she “wakes up” in the afterlife where she meets again, all those who she has known during their living years. The girl, Emily, is freaked out, grieving, and just devastated that she lost her life and can never again have it back. She was always a happy girl with a wonderful life while she was alive, but just like most of us tend to do, she usually took most things for granted. Never stopping to just be and allow gratitude, wonder, and awe to surge through her at all the simple joys like the white fence surrounding her house, coffee, flowers, the way people look at each other, the simple ticking of clocks and folded laundry…
Other than people dying throughout the play, the play is extremely uneventful and has received criticism for that fact but the very essence of being uneventful is the whole point of the play. It is the heart, the gut of it, if you will.
Mr. Wilder intended to show people through his wonderful play, how beautiful, wondrous, amazing, lovely… life IS even when it’s so simple, monotonous, agonizing, and lacking in big events.
While this may seem like a play depicting an idealized view of American life, it actually is not. The message is that life is good while being painful, it’s heartbreaking but breathtakingly beautiful.
One character in the play, Simon Stimson, is a pivot of this message. He struggles with alcoholism and is known as the town drunk but he serves as a message to people . He is a tortured soul who constantly cries out for help but people refuse to help. They are steeped in denial and overlook his desperate pleads for help. He eventually dies by suicide. The message here is that society, friends, family, people….we ignore, deny, repress, overlook so much of life. Even when one of our own is desperately pleading, screaming out for a helping hand.
In the version I have, there is a beautiful forward by Donald Margulies.
Donald Margulies states, “You are holding in your hands a great American play. Possibly the great American play.”
He goes on to say if you have read this play many years ago, perhaps in school as a requirement for some class, you will greatly benefit by reading it again. But now, read it more mindfully, soak up the incredible message this play conveys. Draw on your own life, your own experiences to really receive the deep wisdom of this play.
Donald Margulies admits that he is envious of any person about to begin reading this play who has never read it previously. He loves this play passionately but reading it again isn’t the same as reading it for the first occasion, he says. But he is a teacher/professor and gets to watch others experience again and again which he loves.
The title of this play “Our Town,” itself, is a pivotal message. The town in the play, “Grover’s Corners” is a representation of human life everywhere. It can be extended to all of American life and beyond, all around our world. We are all human and we all share basic human traits no matter our culture, country, society, nationality, religion, skin color, sexual orientation, political views, experiences, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, opinions…
“Our Town”, as Margulies states, is a “microcosm of the human family…”. It is all towns. Everywhere. This play captures the universal experience of simply being alive.
Act III of this play is breathtaking. Mr. Margulies states that he was shattered by it and that is how I feel as well. Shattered then put back together once again but not without a few scars, a few breaks, a deep enthralling sense of enlightenment and compunction.
You know someone is a good teacher when that person can slap you with a truth so profound it brings you to a sense of ruin, leaves you with a sense of pudency, remorse for old ways, living and never knowing. But it’s good to have someone or something break you down to the bone, pierce you to the core, punch you in the gut , knocking the wind out of you, shatter you just to build you back up with a new sense of life, a new philosophy, a newfound strength, rebirth.
Let it rip your heart out, shatter it to pieces, almost beyond recognition then let it glue it back together and move you forward with some scars to remind you to be mindful of the wonders of being alive. The wonders we ignore, overlook, and slap in the face day by day.
Now I will leave you with some poignant quotes or lines out of this play.
In the play when the stage manager is interviewing one of the main characters, Mr. Webb, about their town, Mr. Webb says this:
“Very ordinary town, if you ask me. Little better behaved than most. Probably a lot duller. But our young people here seem to like it well enough. Ninety percent of ’em graduating from high school settle down right here to live-even when they’ve been away to college.”
Mr Webb: “…No ma’am, there isn’t much culture; but maybe this is the place to tell you that we’ve got a lot of pleasures of a kind here: We like the sun comin’ up over the mountain in the morning, and we all notice a good deal about the birds. We pay a lot of attention to them. And we watch the change of the seasons; yes, everybody knows about them. But those other things – you’re right ma’am, – there ain’t much….”
When Emily died and found herself in the afterlife she insisted on looking back at her previous life. The other dead people strongly advised against it as it would be too agonizing and despairing to see a life we once lived and can never , ever return to , but sweet, innocent Emily just had to see for herself. They urged her to choose an “unimportant” day as opposed to one she viewed as very important. One dead woman told her to choose the “least important” day of her life as it would be “important enough.” And it would still be incredibly painful.
Emily chose her 12th birthday.
Here are some things she said as she looked back, as if watching a movie.
Emily: “Oh, that’s the town I knew as a little girl. And look, there’s the old white fence that used to be around our house. Oh, I’d forgotten that! Oh, I love it so!…”
Emily:(softly, more in wonder than in grief.) “I can’t bear it. They’re so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old? Mama, I’m here. I’m grown up. I love you all, everything. – I can’t look at everything hard enough.”
Emily: “Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead. You’re a grandmother, Mama. I married George Gibbs, Mama. Wally’s dead too. Mama, his appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt terrible about it – don’t you remember? But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for one moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another. “
When asked if she was happy looking back, Emily responded, “No…I should have listened to you. That’s all human beings are! Just blind people!”
Here is what Simon, the suicide victim says after death to Emily:
“Yes, now you know. Now you know! That’s what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those…of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one self – centered passion, or another. Now you know- that’s the happy existence you wanted to go back to. Ignorance and blindness. “
“Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every,every minute?
Stage Manager: No. (pause) The saints and poets, maybe they do some.”
Think back to days in your life, maybe a birthday, a holiday, a special event, a graduation, a wedding….what was important to you then? The perfect napkin patterns? The perfect gift? Being a perfect entertainer? Spending a certain amount of money? Looking good? Getting gifts?
What was really, truly important? Napkin patterns and “perfect” gifts? Or looking into each other’s eyes. Really looking. Hugs. Warm embraces. Really tasting that hot tea or coffee. Looking up at the sky and feeling awe surge through you. Genuine friendships. Tucking your kids into bed. Really listening as we speak to each other. Stopping to see the flowers, to feel the sunlight, to hear the cars on the expressway, the birds chirping, to feel the warm blankets at night. Cuddling with your fur friends. To smell the honeysuckle and the roses and the warm cookies baking, to feel the rain on our skin , the soil beneath us.
Think of any “ordinary” day. What about clocks ticking? What about the refrigerator buzzing? What about the cars parked on your street? What about the concrete beneath your feet? What about the feel of air on your skin? What about the walls in your house? The ones you look at every single day. Do you ever stop to notice them? Or are they so mundane you don’t give them a second thought? What about when you’re making your coffee or tea? The sugar and cream going into it? Look at that. Really. Just look. When you brush your teeth, get a shower, wash your hands, inhabit your body and your life. What if you died but were allowed, for a few minutes to look back on this life, wouldn’t you miss all this? Miss it ALL with a passion so potent it can knock the stars and the sun into oblivion?
It’s not just the big things, the holidays, the birthdays, the weddings, babies, and graduations. It’s not just the pretty things, the sky, flowers, sun, butterflies and birds. It’s everything. All of life. The cars screeching in the streets, getting out of bed. Walking, driving to work, standing in lines, paying bills, stress. Wouldn’t you miss all that?
What if your life changes dramatically? What if someone dies on you? What if you are stricken with a long term illness or chronic pain disorder? What if a close family member or friend, a pet becomes terminally ill? What if you become paralyzed tomorrow or something else drastic happens and your life doesn’t look like this anymore? Oh, how you would long for the mundane, your old monotonous ways, your old stress and concerns.
It’s too late for them, but not for us. We are still alive. Still so blessed with this gift. THIS life.
And now with this awareness.
We can wake up and do all the things alive people can do. You can die at any second whether or not you realize or believe it.
Isn’t Thornton brilliant? Isn’t he still touching people long after his own death with this wonderful play? His beautiful, profound message?
You can die right now.
So what are you waiting for? Stop reading this and go make eye contact. Go smile at a stranger. Go embrace someone. Go look up at the sky. Hold hands. Sit in a warm, cozy cafe with a friend and truly listen. Go listen to people. Listen to what they say. Listen to what they don’t say. Take advantage of your senses, of being alive, Share a banana split with your mom, sister, or best friend, hold a door for someone and really want to, buy someone coffee or tea, And if you plan on getting married, forget about the napkins if they don’t turn out right, if you plan on celebrating the holidays, forget the “perfect ” material gift. The true gift is your presence and your love and care.
I am a blessed girl. Truly.
P.s. And oh, yes, go read “Our Town” please. Ty
“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day, I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.” ~ Mary Jean Irion
“There is no such thing in anyone’s life as an unimportant day.” ~ Alexander Woollcott
“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” – Rosalind Russell
“So the sidewalk is crowded, the city goes by
And I rush through another day
And a world full of strangers turn their eyes to me
But I just look the other way
They roll by just like water
And I guess we never learn
Go through life parched and empty
Standing knee deep in a river and dying of thirst” ~ Joe Cocker (and other singers)
” Oh the wild joys of living! The leaping from rock to rock … the cool silver shock of the plunge in a pool’s living waters.” ~ Robert Browning