What beauty are we blind to? — Toby Ord
Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize), is about life in Grover’s Corners, a small town in New Hampshire. One of the main characters is Emily Webb. The play follows her from a precocious young girl through her wedding to George Gibbs, and her early death.
In act three, Emily returns from the afterlife and visits her hometown, wanting to relive one day—her 12th birthday. She joyfully watches her parents and some of the people of her childhood, but her joy soon turns to pain as she realizes how little people appreciate the simple joys of life. She realizes how every moment of life—particularly the small, simple, mundane aspects—should be treasured.
When she visits her grave on the hill, she says, “Good-by, good-by, world. Good-by, Grover’s Corners…Mama and Papa. Good-by 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’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
She then looks toward the stage manager and asks abruptly, through her tears, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute” The stage manager replies, “No. The saints and poets, maybe—they do some.” The play ends.
I’m admonishing myself in this post. I like to stay busy: I always have a to-do list, I’m goal-oriented, I don’t like to waste time, and I’m inordinately time-sensitive. But I’m missing out on a lot of wonderful things in life. I need to recalibrate my life so that I notice and savor small, slow, and simple things that don’t cry out for my attention but will reward it.
Things like: Buddy’s bark, Benjamin’s freckles, a perfectly shaped cluster of grapes, a well-tuned chord, holding Mary’s hand, a fresh blackberry, a perfectly still lake, a well-written phrase, a kind gesture, growing a plant from seed, the sound of thunder in the distance, the smell of a sliced lemon, gravity exerting its influence on a tomato plant.
Psychologist Carl Rogers noted, “The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” He advocated launching “fully into the stream of life.” Our lives will be richer if we embrace adjectives such as enriching, rewarding, awe-inspiring, meaningful, and yes—small, slow, and simple.