The Way We Should Be
Have you ever had one of those moments where you are scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed and you notice that a friend of yours from high school is friends with another one of your Facebook friends? Curiosity takes over, and you message one of them and ask “how do you know so-and-so?” and after your friend tells you how they know your other friend, you say something like, “That’s so funny! It’s such a small world!” I had an experience like that a few years ago when I noticed that two of my friends were Facebook friends and I discovered that I had known both of them my whole life and they had known each other their whole lives, but we had no idea that we all knew each other. Crazy, isn’t it? How we’re all connected but sometimes we don’t pause to notice, or we don’t discover it for years.
As I’ve been contemplating the many insights and lessons from OUR TOWN, one of the themes that come through the story over and over is the importance of human connection. In the opening moments of the play, we see Mrs. Gibbs making breakfast and the family gathering around the table before the kids head off to school. It’s the typical scene of sibling banter, picky eaters and the normal chaos anyone who has kids understands.
A little later we see Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb, who are neighbors, chat about their gardens, their plans for summer canning, and dreams of travel in the future. We also see Mrs. Gibbs lend a hand to Mrs. Webb, who is stringing beans. Howie Newsome, the milk delivery man, knows everyone. As he makes his deliveries, he greets his customers and chats casually with them as he goes. Children walk to and from school in groups together. There are conversations throughout the play between child and parent, husband and wife, teacher and student, friend and neighbor.
If you are paying attention, you’ll notice there’s something central to all of this: connection. One life impacts another, whether through a conversation over breakfast, lending a hand to a neighbor, or visiting with the people who enter and exit the moments of the day.
One doesn’t have to look far to notice the troubling times we live in. The news headlines are full of all kinds of stories that make us angry, make us afraid, and make us wonder about the goodness of humankind. Sometimes the problems seem so great that it’s hard to see how anything you or I could personally do could make a dent in all this confusion, but I think there’s a lesson offered to us by the people of OUR TOWN: They know their neighbors. They don’t put up walls to mark their personal boundaries, but instead they live life open, connected. They share the moments life (and death) bring. They have conversations – conversations that may seem mundane and simple, but it’s these simple things that move us from being isolated from one another to being known, to truly living in community.
So I wonder, how would the news headlines differ if each of us took human connection a little more seriously? What if we spent a little less time scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, and a little more time gathering around a table to share a meal and a conversation? Maybe you’re like me and you live alone. Don’t let that be your excuse. Invite people to gather around your table. Listen to their stories and share yours too. Slow your hurried pace at the grocery store long enough to make eye contact with someone and greet them with a smile. Make a point to learn the names of your neighbors. Look for ways to make a difference in your own community, even if it seems small or insignificant. There are lonely people all around us and maybe if each of us endeavored to look for one or two people and made a connection, we could make a difference.
OUR TOWN isn’t just a play about a town somewhere else, it’s about Your Town and My Town. Maybe, if we choose to connect to those around us, we can make “This is the way we were” be “this is the way we are” in the way we show kindness and care in our communities, and in so doing, change our world for the better.
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