Photograph By Jonas Weckshmeid
How often do you notice your life?
Do you stop to notice the moment only during the “big” events in life: the vacations, the ceremonies, the holidays?
Or do you stop to breathe in the magic that is found in the everyday? The steam quietly rising from your coffee cup. Your family’s smiles. The feeling of chilled morning air sneaking in from a cracked window.
The truth is, there is much beauty to be found in the everyday if we take the time to notice it.
The tragedy is, most of us never do.
Thornton Wilder’s American Classic Our Town was required reading in my high school English class. Since then, it remains an important piece of art to me.
Some dismiss the play as “corny”. It has been my experience that it is often the ideas that are most simple and true that are dismissed as “corny”. I think they are just too close to home, too real, for people to want to deal with them.
The message of this play is certainly close to home:
It seeks to “wake up” it’s viewers to really notice their lives.
In case you’re not familiar with the play, Our Town depicts “typical” small town life in the early twentieth century. It gives a glimpse of daily life, a blossoming love story and marriage, and (spoiler alert!) the death of our protagonist, Emily.
Following her death, Emily is given the opportunity to visit one happy day in her life. She chooses her twelfth birthday, and we are whisked away to a scene many of us will recognize: a busy mother preparing for the day and getting breakfast on the table. At first, Emily is thrilled to see the house and street she once knew, her parents looking young once more.
But as the scene progresses, she becomes more and more distraught. She sees people going through the motions of life and never taking the time to notice it, to cherish it.
Instead of taking you through the whole scene, I’ll give you a few key lines of Wilder’s masterpiece:
Oh, mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me.
It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.
I didn’t realize. All that was going on in life and we never noticed.
Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you.
Do any human beings ever realize life as they live it? Every, every minute?
And she is answered:
No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.
Photograph by orlova maria
Now, before you start to feel all guilty that you haven’t been realizing “every minute”, let me try to calm your fears. Unfortunately, it is impossible in our human nature to fully bask in every moment of every day. Stress, anxieties, distractions abound. We are imperfect creatures, but the fight to live fully each passing, imperfect day, is a noble one.
I don’t believe that this earthly life is the only one I’ve got, but it is, nonetheless, the most precious of gifts. It is not to be taken lightly.
I deeply desire to live fully.
The trouble is, our response to the desire to “live fully” is often to jam-pack our lives. Full means…full, right? As in more? So we heap more activities, more achievements, more adventures onto our plates.
And what do we notice? The activities, the achievements, the adventures. We no longer have the time-or the brain space- to notice life going on around us.
I’m not advocating we all completely clear our schedules and just sit around staring at life. That is impossible and inadvisable: we still want to live fruitful lives. But I am advising perhaps clearing some unnecessary things from your schedule and being intentional about slowing down and noticing your life. I don’t care how busy you are: it is possible for you to clear 15 minutes of your schedule this week to move slowly and gently through your day.
I have a couple questions for you to think through:
If you have a journal, go ahead and write your answers in it. If you’re not going the journal route, then think through this with me. But please remember to do this.
- What is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen today? Did I notice anything particularly beautiful, and if I did, did I take time to savor it?
- How would my life be different if I had an extra 15 minutes in my day? 30 minutes? An hour? More? How would I spend this time?
- Who would I reach out to if I had an extra hour in my week?
- Where can I trim some time out in my day? Am I involved in any activities that I think are “must-do” but really aren’t? What can I simplify? (note: think outside the box here…sometimes these aren’t so much formal “activities” we are involved in, as they are unnecessary standards we place on ourselves. For example: could your family be just as content with a simple crockpot meal as one you slaved over for an hour?)
- Choose one of the above activites and cut. it. out.
- And here’s the real challenge: Resist the temptation to fill up the time you’ve freed.
That last one is where the rubber meets the road, right?
We are so wired to fill up every available second of our time. But don’t. At least not ahead of time. When the time comes, you can decide what you’re going to do with it.
Hopefully when you do, you’ll decide to spend it noticing the steam from your coffee cup, your family’s smiles, and the kiss of the breeze from your window.
You’ll spend it noticing life.