In high school, the school drama troupe performed Our Town by Thornton Wilder. One line from the play struck me then and has stayed with me ever since.
The line comes towards the end of the play when the young heroine of the story, who has died but been allowed to visit a day in her life, must return to her grave. Her ghosted self looks upon her family and town one last time. She speaks though they cannot hear her. Looking down at this one day, a day like any other, she says:
[Softly, more in wonder than in grief] I can’t bear it. They’re so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old? Mama, I’m here. I’m grown up. I love you all, everything. – I cant look at everything hard enough. [Pause, talking to her mother who does not hear her. She speaks with mounting urgency] Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead. You’re a grandmother, Mama. I married George Gibbs, Mama. Wally’s dead, too. Mama, his appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it – don’t you remember? But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another. [Pause, looking desperate because she has received no answer. She speaks in a loud voice, forcing herself to not look at her mother] I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. [She breaks down sobbing, she looks around] I didn’t realize. All that was going on in life and we never noticed. Take me back – up the hill – to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look.
She sees in hindsight every moment for what it really was, beautiful and fleeting (“all that was going on and we never noticed”). She then bids farewell:
Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up.
It seems every pedestrian detail was so precious and potentially glorious. And then, she says the line that struck me as a teenager, the line that always returns to me whenever I pause long enough to think and consider my days, moments like New Year’s Eve when I look back at the year. She says:
Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?
It is all so wonderful. The good days and the bad. The little jokes shared between siblings. The hurried dinners. The practices and drop-off lines. The late nights and early mornings. The quiet cup of coffee. The tears and sorrow. The birthday parties and housekeeping. The questions and adventures. It is all so wonderful because it is life, life on this earth.
We were meant to live life on earth, with God and without sin and without death. This was the plan from the beginning. And even this broken life, a paltry taste of the edenic life for which we were made, speaks of this untold, once-told glory. Being alive, walking this planet, is still awesome. It is still tied back to the original plan: life! This is why death is always sad, even the death of a believer, because we were meant for life, to live. And this is why we rejoice that one day death will be swallowed up and God will make a new earth for us and Him and we will have life everlasting.
Returning to the play, you should know the young lady’s question does not go unanswered. To the question “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute,” the stage manager, who acts as the narrator, replies, “No. The poets and the saints, maybe they do some.” Did you hear that? The poets and the saints! Maybe you are no poet, but if you are in Christ, you are a saint. It is to us to be the keepers of the time. We are the watchmen who know the hour and await the restoration of all things. We are the ones who should number our days aright. We are the one who know the mystery of redemption and life everlasting. For we know Jesus, the defeater of death, the restorer, the one who makes all things new. The one who gives life.
In this new year, may you revel in the glory of every day and everyday life, even as you anticipate and hasten that future Day, when life on earth will be restored to its dreamed state.
Happy New Year.