“Art is confession; art is the secret told,” wrote Thornton Wilder. “But art is not only the desire to tell one’s secret; it is the desire to tell it and hide it at the same time.”
Recently my daughter read Our Town with her 7th grade English class. From the pages of the book fell an email from my cousin, Charles McPhee, dated 10/08/2009 — one year and seven months, to the day, before he would die of ALS, the illness that had already ravaged him by this point. The email was written with a device attached to his forehead. With the help of that device, painstakingly, he had typed his own quite humorous farewell (“As all of you here today know, I never like to leave a party early ….”) to be read by my father at his funeral. And it was. He was 49 years old. In his 10/8/09 email, speaking of other things, he asked:
do you know the last section of ‘our town,’ where Emily has died and waits with the other dead in the cemetery above Grovers Corners. she decides to re-live a day … and when you get a moment re-read it. it is My favorite description of consciousness.
I read the play then and again today. My daughter has just read it. I had put the email in the book so it would fall out and come to me again, so that he would speak to me again and remind me again and the email goes back into the book now so that I can forget and be surprised and remember all over again — not Charles. I will never forget Charles. Rather the consciousness he speaks of and that he understood as a young man and as a healthy man and as a dying man, and that he still speaks of — one year and nine months, to the day, since he died.