Two quotations from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town at the beginning of Act III:
“Now there are some things we all know, but we don’t take’m out and look at’m very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars… everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”
“Over there are some Civil War veterans. Iron flags on their graves…New Hampshire boys… had a notion that the Union ought to be kept together, though they’d never seen more than fifty miles of it themselves. All they knew was the name, friends – the United States of America. The United States of America. And they went and died about it.”
The first quote reminds me of this passage from CS Lewis:
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”
How different our view of humanity if we view us as being merely intelligent animals or as immortal spirits sheathed in flesh.
The second quote is indicative of the old fashioned patriot that Wilder was, as demonstrated by his serving in the Army in World War I and in the Army Air Corps in World War II. Civil War veterans in his day were as far in time from him as World War II veterans are from us. Both groups of veterans, and the memory of them, serve as anchors for patriotism and heroism for the generations that came after them.
We are creatures of eternity but live in time and what we do in time echoes not only in eternity but for those who come after us.
Go here to view the quotes as performed in the 1940 film version of Our Town. Start at 01:08:20.