Yesterday morning dawned overcast and chilly. While sipping coffee, I checked my newsfeed on Facebook. A dear friend had commented on a post from the daughter of a former neighbor of ours. The post began, “It is with heavy heart that I pay tribute to my dad, who passed away May 4 after a short battle with cancer. He was 76, taken way too early.” I clicked “comment,” expressed my condolences, and got ready for church.
Later, Keith and I met another couple for lunch and a show at the American Shakespeare Center, Thornton Wilder’s classic Our Town. The play is set in the early twentieth century fictional town of Grover’s Corners and is narrated by a character called the stage manager. He guides the audience through three acts—Daily Life; Love and Marriage; Death and Dying—the arc of everyday, human existence. Next-door neighbors Emily Webb and George Gibbs are children going to school, growing up and marrying one another, then she dies in childbirth.
“We all know that something is eternal,” the Stage Manager says at the beginning of Act III. “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.” (my emphasis)
Act III takes place in the town’s cemetery where the dead talk to one another. Emily has joined them but does not want to forget life. She is allowed to relive one day and chooses her twelfth birthday. But the experience proves painful: living people do not appreciate the beauty and transience of life like she now does.
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?” she asks the stage manager, “every, every minute?”
“No,” he replies, “The saints and poets, maybe—they do some.”
As the sun rose this morning, I gulped my coffee and scrolled through the Facebook newsfeed quickly. I had scheduled a 7a.m. oil change and routine maintenance check for our truck at Stoney Creek Auto in Nellysford, our town. While I waited, folks came in saying, “Mornin’”—just like in the play. I noted snippets of dialogue, gesture, and nuance as people went about their day.
On the drive back up the mountain, I thought about the post from yesterday. “My dad was a magical man, a talented watercolor artist and former architect,” the daughter of my former neighbor wrote. Her father was a poet, a visual poet.
I pulled the truck off the road and stopped. In honor of his memory, I snapped this picture of transient light shining on blooming mountain laurel.