There’s a scene toward the end of Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN that takes place in a graveyard. Emily, a recently-deceased young mother, looks back longingly on her earthly existence. After trying to go back and relive just an ordinary day from her past, Emily finally pulls away in despair when she sees how oblivious everyone else is during that unimportant day to how precious life their lives really are.
She blurts out that our earthly day-to-day lives are too glorious for us to take it all in at the time. She wonders aloud to the other residents of the graveyard if anyone ever realizes this while they’re still alive.
That when the Stage Manager, a character who serves basically as a narrator speaking directly to the audience, responds. His answer to her is at first a very plain spoken “no”; that no one during their earthly existence understands this holy truth.
Then he interjects that he suspects “a few saints and poets might have an inkling”…
Well, I’m certainly no saint, and I’m a very poor poet. But in the wee hours of the night, when all is quiet and still, there are some rare moments of clarity. Those are the hours when I’m usually unable to sleep, fretting over some newly discover problem or roadblock to my personal plans for happiness…
…some barrier that seems insurmountable
…some conflict that appears devastating and capable of destroying all that’s important to me
That’s when I’m occasionally tapped on my head by God and struck by this thought:
“David, that sound you hear – that’s your own breath. And as long as you still hear it…as long as you’re alive, there’s still hope. There’s still time to make a difference.”
It’s funny how melodramatically we look at some of the insignificant things happening in our lives. Some perceived slight, some problem with our job, an as-of-yet unrealized goal for our lives…all these are but blips on the radar screen we’ll soon be barely able to remember, much less comprehend what was so worrisome about them.
And yet, we fix our focus on them and ignore the true blessings of the now…
We sit in a room with our family – people who we know will only be with us for a short while, and take them for granted. We ignore the gift of them simply being around us. Yes, we fret to the point of desperation about things of absolutely no value, all the while ignoring the ones who soon we’ll be missing for the rest of our lives.
We capriciously push friends out of our lives for some perceived slight, forgetting how blessed we are to have even known them in the first place.
We forget all the lonely people sitting by themselves at home each night with no one to talk to, all the singular souls staring at a TV screen in assisted-living facilities…while we choose to stare at out own TVs and ignore our loved ones sitting just a few feet away.
We continually sweat the small stuff and ignore the big stuff.
Wonder happens all around us – but we roll our eyes at the predictable beauty of a sunset, forgetting that its beauty is partly due to the melancholy fact it will soon be gone.
What is this cruel trick that life plays, that we do not see the value in things until they are taken from us?
But remember, it is not yet too late…
You’re still alive.
Your heart is still beating.
You are still reading this page.
That quiet sound you hear – that’s your own breath. It’s the still, small voice of a God trying to get your attention, to refocus you away from all the junk you allow to monopolize your time each day. All that stuff that will never matter once this life is passed.
And as long as you still hear that breath…as long as you’re alive, there’s still hope.