Friday, January 22, 2010

Do We Ever Realize Life While We're Living It?

When a singular theme emerges three times in the span of a week, you tend to take notice.

On Monday, I posted a reflection on Randy Pausch’s book The Last Lecture, which I borrowed from the library at the suggestion of my friend Amy. (I was looking for something for our book club to discuss, and she had heard great things about it.) I agree: it’s worth the read. Randy’s focus in the book is not on his impending death but on his desire to live well. (As Curt Harding commented on my Facebook page: “That was the pleasant surprise of that book. It’s about life.” Well put!)

At the time, I hadn’t realized that my dad’s birthday was this week. It wasn’t on my radar until I was watching the weather, and the date flashed on the screen. Oh my. I thought. Today would have been Dad’s 65th birthday. I won’t repeat the info I posted yesterday, but suffice it to say that my father was an amazing man who left a lasting legacy not only for his family but for all who knew him. He was a man who, like Randy Pausch, knew how to live with all his might.

A few days ago, I took the kids to the library again. (The library is sort of my home away from home since Brett and I had to drastically cut this year’s budget for buying books. Sigh.) While the kids were poking through their section, I wandered over to see if by chance I could find a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. They didn’t have it… but sandwiched between the books on writing and books about computer science were some rare gems—classics I haven’t read yet! The first one to catch my eye was “Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder. I’ve heard of this Pulitzer Prize–winning play and seen it quoted in other books, but I hadn’t actually read it before. A short play in three acts, it seemed an interesting and quick read, so I added it to our pile of kids’ books, a Dora DVD, and Babe.

What I didn’t know at the time (but most of you probably do) is that the theme of “Our Town” is, put simply, this: appreciate the everyday ordinariness of life and don’t take your life—or the people you love—for granted.

Hello? Anyone sensing a theme here?

The Last Lecture—in the face of death, a man lives fully and with all his might.

• Dad’s birthday—fond memories of a man who left a legacy of a life well lived.

• “Our Town”—a play about appreciating life, because you never know which day is your last.

Now, I don’t want to give away too much of the play, in case there are one or two of you out there who haven’t read or seen a production of it, but “Our Town” doesn’t feature a complex plot with lots of twists and turns; rather, it simply portrays an ordinary town with ordinary folks living their ordinary lives. (Think Norman Rockefeller and Mayberry set in a Frank Capra film.)

The play takes place in three acts: Act 1 is “Birth,” Act 2 is “Love and Marriage,” and Act 3 is “Death.” The play begins with a literal birth (a doctor delivering twins) and ends with . . . well, you can guess. Though several years pass between the opening act and the final scene, Wilder skillfully constructs the setting so that the play begins in the morning and ends at 11 p.m., giving the sense of a single day, the ebb and flow of life.

I could go on about some of the play’s motifs, but you can do a Google search and read commentary from those far more qualified than I to speak on its literary value. But I want to highlight one scene that struck me. It’s in Act 3, and one of the main characters has died. Desperate to experience at least some of the joy of living again, she asks (and receives) the opportunity to relive one of the happiest days she can remember: her twelfth birthday.

As she’s transported back to this day, in her home and with her family, she is anguished to discover that the day passed as any other ordinary day. A busy family is having a hurried breakfast and making plans for the day . . . just another day . . .

Realizing that no amount of urging can make her loved ones slow down enough to take notice of the day—to savor the moment and truly appreciate one another—she turns to the stage manager and pleads for the flashback to stop. “I can’t,” she says. “I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.”

She begins to sob.

“I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back—up the hill—to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look.

“Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover’s Corners . . . Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking . . . and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths . . . and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”

Looking toward the stage manager, she then asks abruptly, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”

I won’t tell you the stage manager’s answer . . . because I’m more interested in your answer (and mine).

Do we ever realize life while we’re living it, every minute?

Today is just another ordinary day. You woke up, you did your morning routine, you had breakfast, you went (or are planning to go) to work.

My dad did that on February 2, 1989. He had no idea that day would be his last on earth. It was just another ordinary day.

I’m not trying to be morbid here at all. But after the same theme has kept popping up over and over this week, what I’m pondering is this:

Am I truly realizing my life, every minute of it?

Am I making the most of each day that God has given me--including today?

Have I told my husband and children today that I love them? Have I taken the time to look at them—to really notice them—and appreciate them? Have I made a difference in someone’s life today? Am I living in such a way that if God were to call me home, my family would be flooded with letters from people who saw the light of my ordinary life and glorified my Father in heaven?

What kind of legacy am I creating for my own children?

You see, a legacy isn’t something you can put off till tomorrow or tuck away on a “to-do” list. It’s not something you’ll get around to someday when life calms down or when the kids go to school or when things slow down at work.

Our legacy is what we’re doing right now, in this moment, on this ordinary day.

Just something I’m thinking about this week. Something I hope maybe you’ll think about too.

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