Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Extraordinary Ordinary

Dear Dr. Lamaze:  Do I smell smoke? Are your khakis on fire? Cause Doc, you lied!

It wasn't "discomfort" I felt during childbirth. It was pain. And nothing else went quite like those classes promised either. 

At the hospital, my husband got held up with paperwork at the front desk and didn't join me for the longest time. By then, I had already made the choice to abandon natural childbirth and try the epidural. I didn't care if they went to the streets to get drugs--I only knew I wanted some. 

The young doctor on call had only been practicing for five days. Five. It had taken me nine months to assemble this baby from spare parts, and they send me Doogie Howser and his affable sidekick, Nurse Rachett. I don't remember using any of the stuff in my carefully packed goodie bag. Nothing was going according to plan, and I  couldn't help but feel that I was doing everything wrong, wrong, wrong.

"It's a boy," Doogie announced, the words floating somewhere above me. Nothing was quite real. And then. . .afterbirth? They had to be kidding. I thought I was done.

Suddenly, a cry pierced the fog. A baby was crying nearby.  Small wonder. We were in the maternity wing, after all. Hold the phone. That was MY baby. After nine months of big belly and clueless classes and waiting and wondering, my baby was crying. My son. 

That cry was the most amazing music I ever heard. It changed my life forever.

Hal Holbrook as the Stage Manager
in Our Town
I'll always remember that day, but so many other amazing days slip by unnoticed, unappreciated.

Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town is about the extraordinary meaning and value of everyday life. In Act III, Emily Webb Gibbs, who had recently died in childbirth, is given the chance to return to her life in Grover’s Corners for just one day, her twelfth birthday.  

Emily watches in wonder as her mother makes breakfast and lays out the presents. Her mother looks so young. Everything is so lovely, but it's all happening too fast. She begs her mother to slow down, but her mother-of-the-past can't hear her.

George and Emily courting

When it’s time to leave, Emily says, “Good-bye to clocks ticking....and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?"

All it takes is a high school reunion to make you realize that each ordinary day is an extraordinary gift. At every reunion, there comes a time when we pause to remember classmates who have died. Some of these friends died in their twenties, some in their forties, some just at retirement time. And this moment of reflection is also a reminder that there will come a day when they’ll be reading my name on this list.

We don’t pause often enough to drink in the blue of the sky, to breathe in the perfume of woodsmoke and sweet coffee and bacon and honeysuckle. To delight in the great dance of hearts beating, seasons changing, stars circling above. To savor the amazing possibilities of each new morning, the healing rest of each night.

Writing down the stories of our lives can sometimes help us to “realize life” more fully than we do while we’re actually living it. As Emily says in Our Town, “It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another.”

We record the memories for those who come after, so that they may catch a glimpse into our lives and get to know us. But we also record them for ourselves. To ponder the mystery of the days we live on this island in time, afloat on an ocean of eternity. To puzzle out the meaning of our experience. To revel anew in the joy of a first kiss, the birth of a child. To feel again the sting of a final farewell. 

Not so we can live in the past, but to celebrate the good, to forgive the bad, to make our peace, and to move on to the next adventure, in this world and beyond.

ASSIGNMENT: Did you think of a theme song for each decade of your life? For my childhood, I chose the 50's novelty song "Purple People Eater." You know: "It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater...." Why? Because I was a really creative child who spent a lot of time in Outer Space, writing stories about visiting other planets with my friends. What song did you choose for your childhood years?

1 comment:

  1. Another home run! Love the pictures! "Our Town" is one of my favorite plays. Just thinking about it makes me want to see it again. Oh, to have Emily's eyes as we go through our days. Thanks for the reminder.