Let’s look at one another

Our Town

These are one of the last lines the character Emily from the play “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder says in the last act, after she has crossed over to the world of the non-living.

“Our Town”, written in 1938 and set at the turn of the century, is the second most performed show in North America and one of my favourite plays. It is currently playing in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Even though I have seen it unfold in different artistic versions many times over the last 40 years, it still gets to me each time; it touches me deeply and makes me reach for a Kleenex because it so beautifully captures the simple truth.

In the third and final act, Emily, who has just died in childbirth, misses life and wants to go back to relive a day. The other souls who have crossed over long ago urge her not to do it, but she has to experience this for herself. She chooses to go back to her twelfth birthday, when all her family was still together. It strikes her how young her parents look and that her brother is still alive. They all go about their mundane lives with ignorance for what the future brings. Going back with the awareness Emily now has, she can’t bear how they are not looking at each other, not really, how they are not quite present to the beauty and sacredness of each moment.

Her soul cries out: “Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead, you are 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.”

No matter whether we live in a small town in New Hampshire at the turn of the century, or in a big city in present day North America, how often do we actually stop and look at each other? Really look into each others timeless souls? We always have this “to do” list; we are caught up in one thing or another. When do we make time to just be; to see, hear, smell and feel each moment with each other? How often do we realize in all those ordinary moments the extraordinary fact of being alive?

Charlie Gallant as George Gibbs, Kate Besworth as Emily, Patrick Galligan as Dr. Gibbs, Catherine McGregor as Mrs. Gibbs and Benedict Campbell as the narrator/Stage Manager

As Shaw Director Molly Smith writes in her Director’s notes about the play, “There are so many reasons why Our Town is one of the greatest American plays. It’s plainspoken and is a deep meditation on love, family, marriage and death.”

What if we created more meditative moments with those we love, with our partners, our parents and our children, and even with a stranger on the street, to really see and know each other at a heart level? It takes awareness and courage to do that. The courage to stop running for a while towards some imaginary goal, the courage to drop meaningless conversations about material belongings in exchange for deeper communications, and most of all, it takes listening; really listening from your heart, allowing yourself to be fully interested in the other person.

 

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Marty, The Richest Man in Town

My friend Karen mentioned an inspirational book a while ago which is one of her favourite books. Not feeling well the other day, I grabbed the book as an easy read. My! It was an easy read, but am I glad I had a big box of Kleenex near by!

“The Richest Man in Town” is the story of Marty, a man in his seventies, who worked at Wal-Mart in a small town in South Dakota. What made Marty so remarkable that the author V.J.Smith decided to write about him?

Marty Martinson

Marty wasn’t like other cashiers. He loved people. He greeted every customer and really connected with them through listening, asking them interested questions or saying something nice to them, always coming from a truly authentic place. At the end, when the customers handed him money, he counted out the change, he “placed the change in his left hand, walked around the counter to the customer, and extended his right hand in an act of friendship. As their hands met, the old cashier looked the customer in the eyes. “I sure want to thank you for shopping here today, he told them. ‘You have a great day. Bye-bye.’”

His line up was always the longest. He made everybody feel special. People didn’t mind waiting for a friendly word, a handshake, or even a hug if they wanted one and a true connection from one caring human to another human. Marty spent about two minutes with each customer but he made those two minutes count. For those two minutes, the respective person—whether old or young, whether a cute little girl or a tough biker covered in tattoos—was the only person in Marty’s Universe. He treated everybody with respect and dignity.

Marty handshake

Marty was born in 1926, grew up during the great depression, served in World War II, and never had a lot of money throughout his entire life. He had a wife, who he still at 76 felt was the prettiest girl he had ever met, and four children. He was humble, kind and compassionate. He lived in a trailer, yet was one of the happiest people. He had understood some simple truths:

  1. Try to do a little more.
  2. Only you can make you happy.
  3. Relationships matter most in life.

If we just assume for a moment that this simple man had the simple knowledge to live a happy fulfilling life independent from his outer circumstances, we really have to ask ourselves honestly, “Am I giving other people or outer circumstances the responsibility for how I feel? Or am I taking full responsibility for my own happiness?” and “If relationships matter most in life, do I put enough time and love into my relationships?”

Marty - Goethe quote

Personally, I find that I have to re-adjust my priorities every so often. It is so easy to get caught up in working, networking or superficial social contacts. All this is important but when I am on my death bed what will truly matter? The moments of real connections, the ways in which I have touched somebody else in their heart, the times in which somebody else felt seen, heard and accepted.

The entire town seemed to know Marty because he had a friendly word for everybody who came through his line at Wal-Mart. And Marty was human and liked that people remembered him for his kindness and friendliness. However, it seems Marty also cared in the same way about his own family. Sometimes we care so much how strangers see us that we forget that the people closest to us are the ones who matter most. Did I take that extra moment to be truly present with my child as he or she was talking? Did I connect with my spouse today? Did I hold that loving space of just listening for my mother when she called? Have I given somebody the gift today to be the only person in my Universe for a few moments?

Being compassionate and caring is not necessarily about fixing problems for others. First and foremost it is about listening, acknowledging the other person and their feelings and showing them that they matter. Even if they choose to feel less than positive, can we hold that space without fixing? Holding the space does not mean commiserating with them and confirming for them that they are a victim of a situation. Holding the space means trusting that they are whole, complete and resourceful. It means knowing for them that they can and will change their experience and how they feel—in their own time and in their own way.

marty - Make every moment count

Choosing to do what matters most, to be fully present with every person you encounter, creates happiness for them and for yourself. Make each moment count. The happiness you give comes back to you. That’s why Marty, a simple man without money or college education, was the richest man in town.

Angelika

Relationship Coaching

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

905-286-9466

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