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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