Lines From OUR TOWN That Hit Me Where I Live
Over the past quarter century, I have taught OUR TOWN to high school juniors, trying as best I can to make it relevant. It is not a play that always resonates with 17-year olds, yet it is one that sticks in one’s memory as we grow older and become more aware of the meaning of the situations Wilder presents to us. One big reason for this is the pointed significance of certain lines as we hear the characters say them. Each playgoer, of course, will have a different list, but I want to discuss today the lines that strike a chord with me as I watch the play being performed.
“It’s like one of those Middlewestern poets said, ‘You’ve got to love life to have life, and you’ve got to have life to love life.”
These words were spoken by Lucinda Matlock in Spoon River Anthology. She was based on Edgar Lee Masters’ grandmother and, honest to goodness, I make a pilgrimage to her grave in Petersburg every five years or so.)
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”
The Stage Manager’s answer is no, saints and poets maybe, and I like to count myself among the ranks of the latter, since I have written poetry most of my life.
“There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”
Yes, there is, even though our time on earth is short.
“Only it seems to me that once in your life before you die you ought to see a country where they don’t talk in English and don’t even want to.”
I have had the good fortune to be able to study Chinese and travel in the Far East and the European continent, and it pains me that there are people who think learning a foreign language is a waste of time.
“Take me back—up the hill—to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good bye, good bye world. Good bye, Grover’s Corners…Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking…and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee…Oh, Earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you…”
This line of Emily’s reminds me of my wife’s last morning on earth, and makes me cry every time I hear it.
“There I was in the Congregational Church marryin’ a total stranger.”
Every time I hear this line, I can remember my wedding 55 years ago, looking down that long center aisle in St. Francis Church, seeing my bride on the arm of her father, and thinking, “What in the world have I gotten myself into?”
“An awful lot of sorrow has sort of quieted down up here. People just wild with grief have brought their relatives up this hill. We all know how it is. And then time…and rainy days…and sunny days..n’ snow…We’re all glad they’re in a beautiful place and we are coming up here ourselves when our fit’s over.”
I have never visited a cemetery (one of my hobbies: wandering among the stones of cemeteries) that has not made me think of this line.
“It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God…and the postman brought it just the same.”
And BAM! Wilder has placed tiny little Grover’s Corners in the grand scheme of things in the universe, through the words of a little girl!
And finally, the words of the hymn “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds” ties all of us together in that universe.
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne,
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
Our comforts, and our cares.
We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.
This glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives
And waits to see the day.
From sorrow, toil, and pain,
And sin, we shall be free;
And perfect love and friendship
Reign through all eternity.
We are all connected. Thank you, Thornton Wilder, for this gift you have given us!
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