Sunday, July 19, 2009

Grover's Corners

Last night Herb and Kathleen picked me up and we drove through the quiet early evening past mansions on hills and sharecropper cabins and pine trees and fields of corn and cotton and swamps and woods and when we got to Thomasville we ate a delicious supper and then went downtown to see a production of Our Town, which is a play by Thornton Wilder, which was published in 1957.

Here's what Mr. Wilder wrote about his play:

"It is an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life. I have made the claim as preposterous as possible for I have set the village against the largest dimensions of time and place."

I was excited to see the play, having been in a production of it myself back in oh? 1971 or so, I suppose. I played Emily, the girl whose life is most closely followed in the three acts. And as the lights went down and the Stage Manager came on to tell about life in Grover's Corners, the small New Hampshire town where the play is set, I settled down in my seat to listen and watch and try to remember the person I'd been when I was in that play. It's such a gentle play. There are no props beyond several chairs, two ladders, two tables. It's timeless and quiet. There are no loud passions until the end, and then they are merely the longings of a woman who has died for the ordinary things of "clocks ticking...Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh earth," Emily says, "You're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."

She looks at the Stage Manager and says, "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? - every, every minute?"

The Stage Manager says, "No." He pauses. "The saints and poets, maybe- they do some."

And it hit me that My God! I have spent my entire life trying to find Grover's Corners. I have spent my entire life trying to be one of those saints or poets who tries to realize life every minute I live it. That philosophy is so very much like the one Garrison Keillor talked about when he said that he realized that he was to live an ordinary life, as most of us do, and that, THAT is enough.

And isn't that what this blog is? Isn't that what I write about here? The very things that Emily talked about in the play? Gardens and coffee and baths, love and marriage, and going to sleep and waking up? I don't have a man who delivers milk in the morning but my children call their daddy Papa sometimes. They know, like Emily knew, how much their Papa loves them. How much their Mama loves them.

And I thought about the irony of me playing that role- that of a young girl, falling in love, having a family who loves and cherishes her while I was living such a different life. Oh yes, I was falling in love, but my family- well, it is very telling that one night after we finished the play I was so happy and so in love with life and the boy I was with and I was expecting to go home to an empty house but found that my stepfather had unexpectedly come home early- a man I feared and loathed with all my heart, soul, bones and blood- and my moment of happiness turned into a night of something just this side of terror, knowing he was beyond my door which did not lock.
Back in May, I wrote about that night here.

And now, after seeing the play again last night, I feel quite certain that I would not be the person I am today, would not have the very life I have today, if I had not played Emily in high school. The words I said in that play may not have meant to me what they mean to me now, but I had an inkling already. I had an inkling that the life I was living then, the house I was living in then, the family I had then, was not the way it was supposed to be but that there was hope that I could find (create?) that life if I wanted to. That small human life where the simple pleasure of going to sleep and waking up was not overshadowed and ruined with terror.

And so I have. This small, ordinary life where a cup of coffee is a celebration, where going to sleep is a daily joy, where food is so important, where I know that life is too precious for most of us to understand but that I try. I try to acknowledge and even write about those small daily joys that are more than we humans can know.

It took me a long time to get to this life I lead now. So many struggles and false paths and ego battles and healings and breaking aparts and coming back together again within my self, my life. I had to reknit the very bones of my being before I could settle into this Grover's Corners existence I live. And I am sure that reknitting will never be done, but it is work I love, just as I love this life I lead.

The play ends when the Stage Manager says, "There are the stars- doing their old, old crisscross journeys in the sky. Scholars haven't settled the matter yet, but they seem to think there are no living beings up there. Just chalk...or fire. Only this one is straining away, straining away all the time to make something of itself. The strain's so bad that every sixteen hours everybody lies down and gets a rest. Hm...Eleven o'clock in Grover's Corners. - You get a good rest, too. Good night."

The dead sit in their graves pondering the stars and letting loose of the lives they lived, and the living lie down to rest.

And here I am, in the Grover's Corners of my little world, and it's so beautiful today. It's cool and the sun is out and everything is growing and green and I can hear chickens clucking and there's a cup of coffee at hand and I am not a saint and I am not a poet, but I played Emily once and what I said as her so many years ago I have discovered is part of the most important dialogue I speak daily.

You never know. You just never know.

But I know this- playing Emily thirty-seven years ago might have saved my life.
I wish Thornton Wilder was still alive so I could tell him that. I was good in that play. Very good. And I think it's because even though I was only seventeen and didn't really yet know how very precious the smallest things are, I knew that they should be and with all the yearning in my heart for a life that was not filled with terror and fear and complications of the sort that can shrivel a soul I said those words of Emily's and because of that, I said them well.

I am so grateful that those words found themselves into my mouth to repeat over and over again as we rehearsed, as we performed. Enough for me to internalize them, even as I thought I had forgotten them. Which has led to this. This small, ordinary, precious life I have.

Which is so far more than enough I can't begin to tell you.


  1. And that's the one that has got to me most. You add to my life, Ms. Moon. You add to my life.

  2. I had a feeling seeing that play would affect you like that - it was bound to have an impact. I am so glad you have found your Grover's Corners, and that you write about it for all of us - and help me find my way toward mine.

  3. Ms. Moon, this has got to be one of the most beautiful essays I've ever read. And I think you should share it with more people than those who read your blog. I think you should submit it -- to a newspaper, to a magazine, something. Really. I think it will resonate for so many people in the same way that Thornton Wilder's words have for you.

  4. Maybe, 37 years ago, those words were a prayer to the universe, and the universe answered. And now we get to read your words, and see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
    thank you, Ms. Moon

  5. Your town looks a lot like our town. Get it? Our town?

    This IS a beautiful entry...

  6. Mwa- I'm so glad I can add to your life. Thank-you for saying so.

    SJ- I knew it would affect me too, but I had no idea how profoundly.

    Ginger- Thank-you.

    Elizabeth- Those words are very sweet to me. Where would I submit?

    Michelle- You're right. AND this to me is a testament to what art is and can do.

    Ms. Trouble- That picture (not very good, taken with a cell phone) is downtown Thomasville, Georgia where we saw the play. Not really my town, but one I visit often and love. It's much more beautiful than you can tell from that picture.

  7. I came to the same conclusion through some of the same processes. I was also in Our Town in high school, and since I taught American Lit, we studied it in class many years. That play means so much to me, too. As do Thoreau's essays.

    I'm so glad you wrote about this. Those lines you quoted have guided and haunted me all my life.

  8. Joy- It really is an amazingly beautiful little piece of art, isn't it?

  9. I was Mrs. Webb in our high school production, because I was too damn tall to be Emily. My tiny friend, Angie, was Emily. She was the star, not me. It still ranckles. Kidding.

    I still love that play and imagine everybody sitting in chairs in the cemetery watching us and talking about us as we visit. Sometimes Ginger (my dog) takes a big poop on one of the graves, and I imagine the dead folk shaking their fists and cursing us.

  10. Ms. Bastard- I doubt the dead care. I'm sure you were a lovely Mrs. Webb.


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