Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Beauty and Wonder of Ordinary Life

wet peony
Photo by Muffet

-For some reason, the link to this April 2011 post is broken, so I'm reposting it.
(I'd also like to recommend at this time, the book and film 'The Magic of Ordinary Days.')

Our Town, a wonderful play by Thornton Wilder, is set in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire at the turn of the 20th century.   I'd only heard of this book in the last year or so and finally took the time to read it.

From Sydney Theatre Company's 'Our Town', 2010

Our Town is a love story about George Gibbs and Emily Webb.  Childhood sweethearts, they grow up next door to each other amidst  common, all-too average daily life. They marry right out of high school and begin their family, both learning to sacrifice for the good of the family. But during the birth of their second baby, Emily dies.
The last act is about her death and what she experiences. She watches her own funeral and burial and sees those she loves.
 From the book:
“Live people don’t understand, do they?” she asks. “I never realized how troubled and how…in the dark live persons are…From morning till night, that’s all they are – troubled.”

Then, even though those who have already died before her try to persuade her not to, she chooses to go back and relive a day of her life- her twelfth birthday.
They tell her it's not a good idea.   Still, she goes.

She steps into her mother’s kitchen, circles the stove and table, watches her mother prepare breakfast. She sees the birthday gift George left on her doorstep early that morning. A post-card album she had forgotten about.

“I can’t bear it. They’re so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old? Mama, I’m here. I’m grown up. I love you all, everything. — I can’t look at everything hard enough…Oh Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really see me…Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another.”
Finally, she begins to sob.  Overcome with the grief and beauty of it all – the wonder of her ordinary life.

“I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another…Take me back – up the hill – to my grave.”
Before leaving, however, she wants another look. Longingly, she says good-bye to clocks ticking, her Mama’s sunflowers, new-ironed dresses, hot baths, sleeping and waking. Then suddenly she throws her arms out wide and cries,
“Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – ever, every minute?”
“No.” the narrator, replies. “The saints and poets, maybe – they do some.”

Unfortunately, there is so much truth in that 'no'.  
Just yesterday, I looked at The Man of the House....really looked at him.  I noticed the silver creeping into his hair more, the tired lines around his eyes.  
So often, we look at each other but in our busyness, we don't really see.   

My children tell me about exciting moments in their lives- eyes shining, crooked grins forming , hands gesturing wildly.  How many times have I listened half-heartedly, focusing more on tasks I'm working on or worries plaguing me?

How often do I really see the beauty in the daily activities that we sometimes call 'grind'?  
Running a bath for my daughter- only occasionally now as she's likes to do it herself- and hearing her sing to herself; in her own water world that has transformed into whatever her imagination has fantasized.    Then, later, waiting impatiently to blow dry her hair, she arrives in fresh PJs, with her towel wrapped turban-style with only her eyes and nose showing.  She makes me smile.

Cooking dinner and trying to get things done before rushing off for soccer practice; my eleven year old daughter comes up behind me and gives me a hug.  Not just a cursory hug- a real hug.  She smiles, looks into my eyes, knows I'm about to wriggle out of her grasp in order to drain the pasta.   She tells me, "We have a connection, Mom."  I put down the pot, wrap my arms around her and press my forehead to hers.  Yes, we do.

Taking a breather...really trying to relax after cleaning like crazy for a house showing (that was later canceled), my fourteen year old son walks by and just lifts my hand and holds it for a moment.  He smiles at me and encourages me to relax.

Hearing my children chorus much like frogs in the night with their "thank yous" at dinner time.  I sing out a long "You're Welllcome" with a smile on my face.

Taking a morning- really grasping hold of it and claiming it for my own- to stay in bed and snuggle with The Man of the House.  To first absorb the deliciousness of a quiet house (kids not woken yet) and a warm, familiar body.  To feel worries and tensions drain away.  Then to talk softly about life: goals, children, etc.  And, last of all, to put on an old movie and watch it, legs entwined, pillows a wonder of downy softness, the view out the window pale gray and foggy.

Later, the children waking on their own schedule and wondering why the house is so quiet on a school morning; coming up to find bacon and eggs cooking and Mom and Dad full of patience and serenity; waiting for warm hugs.

Even noticing the dog- who spends years of her life anticipating what we may want or need of her, greeting us with the same exuberant joy every. single. time. we arrive home.   She gets ordered off the couch if we need more space or put outdoors if we have company over.  Cheerfully, she complies.  Never does she complain.

Just today, washing up some dishes by hand- those that couldn't fit in the dishwasher- I noticed how therapeutic it can be to immerse your hands in hot, soapy water.  To think or dream while methodically washing the dishes.  

These little things, little moments are the stuff of which a good life is made.  

A few quotes to remember:

"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take; But by the moments that take our breath away….."

"Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about Learning to Dance in the Rain."

Of course, life is full of difficulties, too.  Children argue, people get grumpy and things go wrong.  But, I think if we make it a habit to really see the loveliness in an ordinary life, not only will we have so many less regrets later, but we'll be able to withstand the difficulties thrown our way with a greater patience and broader outlook.  

Here's to looking for that which is lovely! 

(And I highly recommend reading this play or, even better, watching it in person!)


1 comment:

  1. Jessica,
    What a beautiful of my very favorite EVER! Thank you for sharing all the thoughts I sooooo completely agree with and wish to live up to.
    :0) Stacey


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