Recently I’ve been thinking about the division in our country and what can be done about it. As I’ve pondered the topic, I began watching all three acts of the play Our Town, by playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder on YouTube.
I remember seeing Our Town in my school’s auditorium when the thespian club presented it when I was in high school. The show is the most-performed play ever in America since its creation in 1938. Some of the themes in it are similar to the recently released bestselling book, Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America, by James and Deborah Fallows. If you’re curious to learn more about the book, I wrote about it on July 6.
Our Town takes place in Grover’s Corner, a small town not so different from my hometown
of Seminole, Texas. The story opens by introducing the major character’s death dates – something I found shocking when I first saw it. During the play, we learn about two young people, Emily Webb and George Gibbs and the other residents of Grover’s Corner. Emily and George fall in love and get married but, tragically, Emily dies young, giving birth to her second child.
Act III takes place in the town cemetery. Emily is restless and not ready to accept her fate so, instead of joining the dead, she returns to try to relive a part of her life. The dead tell Emily that they disapprove and that she should not go back. However, Emily shakes them off and goes to witness one of her memories, the day of her 12th birthday. In a particularly moving scene, Emily returns to the cemetery with a greater understanding and appreciation for life’s small moments (see YouTube clip below).
Emily realizes that, while living, she wasted so much of her time. She is overcome with grief for taking life’s gifts for granted. The lesson in Our Town is we are alive and that taking things, people and places for granted is a waste of our precious time. We still have opportunities to make our lives, our towns and our country better than they were yesterday and we would be foolish not to take advantage and make our mark.
Our Town may have made such an impression on me because it focused on death and, when I was nine years, old my 36-year-old father died of a heart attack. When I saw brochures for the play when I was in high school I became very curious. I thought it might help answer one of my most important questions: was my father looking down on me?
My takeaway from Our Town is that while we’re alive we need to cherish each day and focus on the things we can contribute to the world. We all have our own role to play in our communities and whatever part, however small or large, we can contribute toward enabling positive change to occur. It makes a difference and is worthwhile. I’d love to know – how do you contribute to your community?
© Tyra Manning 2018