"We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.
-stage manager, in the play OUR TOWN" — Thornton Wilder
Last night my sister Tami and I went to see the play Our Town at the Barrow Street theater in the village. Our Town is a play I see every chance I get as I find, like any great piece of art, it reveals new meanings to me every time I see it.
I read Our Town before I ever saw it produced. I was in high school and it was an assignment for English. I liked it, but I thought it was kind of cheesy. From my teenage perspective, I wondered why I should care so much about Grovers Corners, New Hampshire.
That year, my sister played Mrs. Gibbs in our high school production of Our Town. I sat in the first row and experienced her up close as she came out to the audience calling, "here chick, chick, chick." We joked about it for years.
My friend Gwyn was next up in Our Town and although I did not get to see the performance -- our connection to the play was more about her costume (instead of buying a black skirt for the play she wore a blue one with black lining inside out -- which drove me crazy!)
It wasn't until I was in my late twenties when I truly connected to Our Town. Back then, the story of young love and how profoundly it can change your life was what pulled me in. I was yearning for that as well.
In my late thirties I saw the play at the Bay Street theater in Sag Harbor with my friends Marc and Gina who had taken me to North Conway, New Hampshire many times. This time, I knew New Hampshire more intimately and understood how the beauty of nature can be a substitute for city culture. I was drawn to the notion of small town life.
Last night, with my sister, I felt the magnitude of Wilder's message of mortality and eternal life. After experiencing the loss of my father and aunt, I find myself thinking about the legacy we leave behind and how our time together is short, even though it feels like we have forever.
At the end when Emily realizes the great gift life gives us, I looked out into the sea of faces, strangers who made up our audience and saw tears and nods of recognition. There we all were, decades after Wilder's own passing, experiencing a connection to the playwright and his message, experiencing firsthand that universal recognition that there is something in all of us that goes on forever.