“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?–every, every minute?” –Emily from “Our Town”
In life there are a lot of big things that happen–for example, when we moved out of the city when I was 10, when I went away to college, when I traveled to Europe, when I became a nurse, when I got married–and those are the things that we take pictures of, that we write about, that we remember. But those aren’t the things that really make up our lives.
A week ago my husband and I went to see the play “Our Town”, and quite honestly I can’t get it out of my head. There’s no big premise to it, no crazy plots or wild characters. It’s just the story of a small town in a particular time in a particular place. There is a stage manager, or narrator, who is present throughout the performance, and at the beginning he gives a speech that I think accurately describes the purpose of the play. He is talking about how a new bank is being built in the town, and there is going to be a time capsule buried in the foundation.
We’re putting in a Bible . . . and the Constitution of the United States and a copy of William Shakespeare’s plays. What do you say, folks? What do you think?
Y’know, Babylon once had two million people in it, and all we know about ’em is the names of the kings and some copies of wheat contracts . . . and contracts for the sale of slaves. Yet every night all those families sat down to supper, and the father came home from his work, and the smoke went up the chimney, same as here. And even in Greece and Rome, all we know about the real life of the people is what we can piece together out of the joking poems and die comedies they wrote for the theatre back then.
So I’m going to have a copy of this play put in the cornerstone and the people a thousand years from now’ll know a few simple facts about us more than the Treaty of Versailles and the Lindbergh flight. See what I mean?
So—people a thousand years from now—this is the way we were in the provinces north of New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying.
I want to hang on to every last piece of my life. I don’t want to forget what it’s like to wake up in the morning smushed between my husband and my dog, and even though I have to pee so badly I tough it out for thirty minutes longer because of how perfectly lovely the moment is. I don’t want to forget how I feel when my husband and I sit down to dinner and he tells me how good it tastes and how much he loves me, or all the times when I’m singing on stage during church and I look out and see my whole family there, or at least most of them, and how when I sit back down to listen to the sermon my father-in-law passes me two pieces of dark chocolate and my husband puts his hand on my leg and whispers in my ear. These little things are my life.
This month as I write here every day, and from now on, I am going to try to capture my life, accurately. I’ve already forgotten so much.
So–people a thousand years from now—this is the way we were in the southeast of Texas at the beginning of the twenty-first century. This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying.
(Although hopefully I won’t have to tell you much about that last thing, at least not yet.)