“Our Town Days”

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”
– Thornton Wilder, Our Town

I was in New York City the other night because a family friend of ours, who also happens to be a Broadway producer, invited me to see a preview of Ann, a play that hasn’t yet opened. She also got me tickets to Once, which was AMAZING. While we were walking through a crowded Times Square from one show to the other, my friend shared a profound observation that I want to preserve, about a journal she keeps to record what she’s coined as “Our Town Days.”

For anyone who hasn’t read Our Town, it’s a seemingly innocuous play about two families living in the sleepy (fictional) town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, at the turn of the 20th century. The families go through their normal routines – sending the kids off to school, tending to their gardens, choir practice at the church, a marriage between the daughter of one family, Emily, and the son of the other, George. In the third act, though, the play takes a dark turn as we watch Emily, who has died in childbirth, reminisce from the afterlife. She is given the opportunity to visit one day of her life, and she decides to travel back to her twelfth birthday, a particularly happy day for her.

But as she is reliving the day, she gets discouraged and wants to return to the afterlife, where she laments that people don’t really understand how precious life is while they’re living it.

One of the major points of the play is to observe life in it’s most normal state, because our instincts tell us to remember grandiose moments – the wonderful, the terrible, the horrifying, the profound – so much so that we lose track of the little joys that happen every day: waking up to the smell of coffee, watering a plant, eating spaghetti, taking a warm shower, getting in the car, visiting a friend, etc.

My friend’s “Our Town Days” journal reflects this idea. Her aim is to record events that are not monumental but normal, so that she doesn’t take those moments for granted.

I absolutely love this idea and hope that you do, too. I think it’s the one gift that cancer has given me that I don’t want to lose sight of: thankfulness for each moment that passes, not because something amazing has happened, but because it is simply amazing to be alive.

The view from my “home office”.

Today, as I sit at home battling a nasty cold, I’m thankful for time off from work, tissues, the fluffy clouds and blue sky that I can see out the window next to my computer, the hum and thud of the trash truck that’s hauling away our refuse, the melodic tapping of my fingers on the keyboard, and WordPress, for giving me a free blog where I can record these simple observations that make life worth living.

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4 thoughts on ““Our Town Days”

  1. I read your blog regularly and I am always buoyed by what you share. I work in professional theater and I had a profound experience with this play. As a jaded graduate student, I was assigned to work on a production as the dramaturg and I initially found it overly-sentimental and cloying. In the middle of the rehearsal process I was called back to California because my father was diagnosed with colon cancer and was having surgery. I was home for 2 1/2 weeks as he had surgery and we waited for pathology which thankfully showed no spread. I went back to MA and the production to finish up my work and I saw the play in an entirely new light. It became one of the most important plays in the dramatic canon to me in its exploration of enjoying each moment- recognizing our lives as we live them, so to speak. I am four weeks away from a double mastectomy and hysterectomy to battle my BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations- this was a perfect time for this reminder…

  2. This is such a rewarding comment – thank you, and I am glad this post was a positive reminder for you before a huge event in your life. I read your blog too and I know you are struggling with a lot right now, but I hope that things go as well as they possibly can for you and you (eventually) feel good about the decisions you make!

  3. Cara….WOW!!! You are a remarkable young woman..of such depth and insight, and I have the distinct feeling that it is not just because of your experience with cancer. I have had a lot of loss in my life and what it left me with was not anger and bitterness, but with a profound sense of gratitude for each and every day and for all the little special moments that make up each and every day. My motto for a long time has been, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may….” I do not complain that it is hot and humid in July or that it is cold and snowy is February. That is such small, insignificant stuff. The story that you tell, and I have not read Our Town in decades and my memory sucks, is one that I will remember and I may even re read the play. You are an extraordinary woman and I am so glad to have gotten to know you through your blogs!
    Hugs!
    Marlene

  4. Thanks, Marlene. Your motto is also a good one – there’s a good reason why there are so many sayings that all basically mean “take pleasure in the small things”!

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