In Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Emily, who died young, is given the chance to relive any single day of her life. “Pick an ordinary day,” she is warned. But she doesn’t; she picks her 12th birthday. And she finds that it’s just too painful to watch herself and her loved ones, not so much because it’s her birthday, but because her family fails to notice everything around them—everything that seems so much more precious to Emily now that it’s irrevocably lost to her. She asks, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”
“No,” the Stage Manager tells her. “The saints and poets maybe . . . maybe some.”
From Grover’s Corners to wherever we are, people remember the days on which the big stuff happened: when we graduated from high school, when a loved one died, when we got married or when our kids were born, when we got fired, when the Challenger exploded or when the World Trade Center fell. But even for those days, we forget many of the minute details, the texture of the canvas on which the day’s big events are projected. And on days when nothing big happens, we eventually forget everything.
My favorite thing to write at this blog is One Day in Your Life. It’s where the little things—songs on the radio, shows on TV, news items that merited a single mention by Walter Cronkite or an inch or two on page 3—collide with big events we are more likely to remember, creating a simulation of the day that’s the best we can do with the tools at hand. We may never find the secret to time travel, but perhaps the meticulous recreation of ordinary days can generate something like virtual reality.
If you read this blog regularly, you probably can guess where this is going.
I am neither saint nor poet, just a guy with a blog, but I’m going to try something anyhow, now that Memorial Day is upon us: recreating the summer of 1976 with One Day in Your Life posts—one a week at the start and we’ll see how it goes, see whether we can paint each week of the summer in sufficiently interesting detail. Because I’d like to believe that done right, such a project might hit the magical combination of keystrokes and toonage that opens up the wormhole. First one tomorrow.