I travel extensively and on most of my trips, business or pleasure, I am surprised at how often I proudly mention the community where I live to others. I am also amazed at how nostalgic I have become. The other day, for example, I thought back fondly to 1971 when I attended high school and remembered reading the role of the Stage Manager who serves as the narrator in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, the classic stage production that is a beautiful piece of work depicting an average American community just like ours in many ways.
If you can recall, the story takes place in a small town in New Hampshire one hundred years ago but its timeless theme speaks volumes to us today. It caused me to embrace and discuss the traditions that make our own town, Hendersonville, a truly American community in its own rite. We have a remarkable place here. For instance, I recently appeared in Footloose with a great cast of local actors, dancers, and musicians at Steeple Players Theater and your friends and neighbors are quite talented in case you haven’t noticed lately. Anyhow, the three acts of Mr. Wilder’s play analyze the reality of ordinary folks like you and me, specifically explored as they go about the three acts of Daily Life, Love and Marriage, & Death and Eternity.
We should each come to realize that seemingly commonplace activities are actually very important. Going to school or work, mowing the yard or planting flowers, spending a day on the lake or shopping, and reading the local newspaper define what it means to live and the people around you help you appreciate this wonderful life in many ways. We are all connected. The first act of the play, Our Town, culminates as George and his sister, Rebecca, look out their window and up at the sky and wonder about the meaning of the universe. My wife and I have reclined in our little boat on many summer nights and done exactly the same thing right here, anchored on Old Hickory Lake.
When the play’s star-crossed lovers, George and Emily marry and he gives up his dream of going away to seek his fortune, it is revealed that when you meet someone special it is worth the sacrifice to stay home with that person who “likes you enough to be interested in your character” and while no community is perfect, when the bells toll like they do at the local church they toll for one and all whether you are in Grover’s Corners or Hendersonville. Love and Marriage is why we do what we do. It brings out the very best in people like the ensuing miracle of babies being born. Here like there, they are taken care of by a good doctor prompting Emily to say “I’d rather have my children healthy than bright.” Most of us today would say we want both and thanks to good schools and hospitals it is possible here. After a trip, my kids still say “it is good to be home.”
That brings me to the uncomfortable subject of death, an everyday occurrence for us humans here in Hendersonville and in Mr. Wilder’s mythical town as well. I rarely go through our town that I do not see images of people leaving us as I go to funerals and pass by cemeteries. As I age it becomes more apparent and in some ways, more real. After dying an untimely death, in spirit form, Emily tells us in the play that life for husband George will never be the same without her, adding, “Live people don’t understand, do they?” She’s right as we often don’t realize how wonderful life here really is.
My prayer for you, my fellow citizens is to wake up and smell the coffee, the roses, whatever it is that arouses your senses to a newfound love for life and to a newfound appreciation for your town. Emily discovered that life is to be treasured in the little town where she lived and we should do so in the town where we live. To put it in her words, “Every, every minute.”