Thursday, October 17, 2013

OUR TOWN

I just finished reading “Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder.  This year marked the 75th anniversary of the play’s debut, and it is still regularly performed, although probably more often by high school theater groups than by professional theater companies.  I know that I have seen the play performed at least two or three times and have read it once or twice before as well.  And each time I have been struck by the play’s power.  It’s a power that does not derive from a suspenseful plot or from the play’s use of language or turns of phrase.  Rather, the play’s power comes from its utter simplicity.  Why am I talking about a classic American play on a blog devoted to skepticism and religion?  Let me try to explain.

[Spoiler Alert: “Our Town” is not really plot driven and I think reading what I have to say would not ruin things for you.  But if you haven’t seen or read the play and are concerned that reading about some of the plot elements would spoil it for you, then I would rather that you skipped what I have to say than to have you upset with me.  Hmmm . . . . ]

The play’s first two acts deal basically with everyday life in an idyllic New England small town in the early years of the 20th century.  Nothing much happens dramatically and it is all rather pleasant as people go about their everyday lives.  For me, these first two acts simply serve as a setup for the third act, which takes place at the funeral of one of the main characters, Emily, who has died in childbirth.  The emotional force of the third act comes, not from the grieving of the living, but from the epiphany that Emily experiences in death.  She comes to realize--late--the meaning that she should have taken from life, that life needs to be appreciated as we are living it.  And it’s not just the big events.  Rather, it is the little everyday things--the sound of rain on the roof, the kindness of a stranger holding open a door for us, the expression on a loved one’s face in sleep.  Indirectly, Wilder is saying that the life we have is now and that we have to take advantage of that.

I have an interest in photography and very often I find myself looking for a composition or a combination of colors or a pattern that I would like to capture with my camera.  And I experience pleasure when I see something that I think might be worthwhile.  I am even happier when I can capture with my camera a part at least of what I am seeing.  After having reread “Our Town,” what I am telling myself is that I need to expand those observations to the rest of my life.

I realize that my life has no ultimate meaning.  We’re here and then we’re gone, and nothing matters to us once we are gone.  I was asked by one reader what is the point of seeking the love and regard of family and friends if in the end we are gone.  My reply is that while I am living I can take meaning from what I have.  And that includes all the little things that we so often miss because we are driven by the regrets of the past or by the fears of the future.

The joy we can experience in everyday things is not because God designed the world that way.  Instead, it is simply a facet of our humanness.  But I’m grateful and hope I can continue to take advantage.

© 2013 John M. Phillips

4 comments:

  1. I like your new direction with Skeptic Reflections. It gives you more to work with and brings out a side of you not seen in your architectural/photography studies.

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    1. Thanks, Allan. It helps to keep me out of trouble.

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