Emily: Does anyone truly realize life while they're living it- every, every minute?
Stage Manager: No. Saints and poets maybe. They do some.
The above quote is from "Our Town" and has remained with me since I read the play in my sophomore year of high school. Emily, from her new position post-death, is able to see that no one is appreciative of the life they live while they are living it. As a fifteen-year-old girl, I wanted to think that I could accomplish it. I liked writing poetry- maybe I would be one of the poets the stage manager speaks of?
In reading through my journals from the time Dan and I were married, I came across quite a few poems I don't remember writing. Here is one from 2006:
because of this
my sobbing sound
like a baby that is too old now.
wind blows and rattles windows
and your heart sleeps inside like a stone.
My late night vigil
to no avail.
1 AM and until day, until then
then no more dying, no more pain,
just the end.
My God, I was dramatic. Because what was this about? Probably about all the typical things that were on my mind back then. Struggling to find a career I liked. The struggles in our marriage as Dan pursued his passion and I felt like I was no longer a priority. The usual depression/malaise I've always struggled with. Perhaps I had to create drama because my life just wasn't as interesting as I would've liked.
But as I skimmed through those journals, I was struck- amazed at how incredibly small and inconsequential all that stuff seems now. It seems quite silly really. I had it all. We were young, living in a great neighborhood. We had found each other and had a beautiful though tumultuous relationship. We had talents and gifts we wanted to give to the world. We just weren't sure how to go about it. What was the problem? I think the problem inherent in that poem and in my journal writing is simple- the sin of self-absorption. Sure a little introspection is healthy, but as Dan usually told me- "You think way too much."
The "Our Town" quote sprung to my mind last night when I was chatting online with a friend. I was telling her how I am just so jealous now of all the happy families and how reading things people post on Facebook is difficult. I know Facebook isn't genuine or a full spectrum of someone's life, but it is hard to read about even the simplest things they get to do as families or as husband and wife. She pointed out that the sad thing is that most of those people don't realize what they have. This is true and I am sorry for that.
My friend confessed her own guilt in that she'd been frustrated and angry with her husband- who I happen to know is quite an amazing man: "Even though I know it's wrong, I find myself still doing it." She said it's like what Paul says in Romans: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." There has never been a truer statement about the human condition.
"The old man versus the new man," I said. For this is our struggle in this kingdom of "not yet."
And so I don't think Emily's question can be answered in the affirmative at all. I even wonder at times, if Dan were to come back now from the dead, after five, ten years, would I again start to take him for granted and have regular frustrations like anyone else? Would I be able to sustain the window that I have right now in his death? As much as I hate to imagine myself falling that far- perhaps not. This is very much the sickness of man.
In my journal I found another quote from a book I'd read at my publishing job at the time. One of the sentences had stayed with me- "The difference between what you know and what you do equals the pain of your experience." I remember thinking- yes, this explains a lot. I know what I should be doing, what I want to be doing- I have it all in my head- but I can't quite get there.
But later that day, I met my friend Abbie for dinner- our first dinner together- we were new friends. We walked down 6th Avenue in Park Slope to a burger place she'd heard about. As people who are destined to be good friends do, we were already diving into the weightier topics of our lives. I shared this quote with her, and her response surprised me. I love her because she never tells me what I want to hear or agrees with me just to keep the conversation going. She speaks slowly and pensively.
"No, I don't think I agree with that Julia. That's a very sad way to live. It leaves no room for grace."
Grace- ah. The word is like a sigh through which I blow out all of the tense breath I've been holding in without realizing it. It's the same grace another friend told me she relies on in mothering. "You do the best you can and pray for grace over the rest of it." She too had been grieving the instant loss of her mother in a car accident while she mothered two small girls.
So, no, Emily, the answer is no. No one will be able to truly enjoy this life while living it- "every, every moment" as you say. It's the struggle of the old and new man- which will not be resolved until the kingdom of the not yet, becomes the kingdom of now. But for now...there is grace.