There’s a scene toward the end of Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN, when the recently deceased young mother named Emily looks back longingly on her earthly existence. After trying to go back and relive a day from her past, Emily pulls away in despair when she sees how oblivious everyone is to how wonderful even an ordinary day of life really is.
She blurts out, “Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it…?”
The stage manager’s response is at first a plain spoken “no”…but then he adds, “…the saints and poets maybe – they do some.”
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 am usually unable to sleep, fretting over some newly discover problem or roadblock to my plans of happiness. Some barrier than seems insurmountable, some conflict that appears devastating and capable of destroying all that is important to me.
It’s then that I am occasionally hit upside my head by God and struck by this thought: “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.”
It’s funny how melodramatically we look at some of the insignificant things that happen in our lives. Some perceived slight, some problem with our job, an as-of-yet unrealized goal for our lives…these are all the components that soon we will be barely able to even remember, much less understand what was so worrisome about them.
And yet, we sit in a room with our family…people who we understand will only be with us for a short while, and we ignore the gift we have of them simply being around us. Yes, we fret to the point of desperation about things of absolutely no value, all the while ignoring people who soon we will be missing for the rest of our lives. We toss friends out of our lives with ease for some slight, forgetting how blessed we are to have even known them.
We forget all the lonely people sitting alone at home each night with no one to talk to, and all the widows staring at a TV screen in assisted-living facilities…while we stare at out own TVs and ignore our loved ones sitting just a few feet away.
We sweat the small stuff and ignore the big stuff. Wonder happens all around us – we roll our eyes at the predictable beauty of a sunset, forgetting that its beauty is partly because of the melancholy that 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 still alive, you are reading this…
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.
So…breathe. And live.