They say there is no going back, not in time or otherwise, yet we all feel that pull to see it as we once did, whatever that it might be. Perhaps the core of this is best expressed in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, in Act III, during that iconic graveyard scene when the dead speak.
EMILY: But, Mother Gibbs, one can go back; one can go back there again . . . into living. I feel it. I know it. Why just then for a moment I was thinking about . . . about the farm . . . and for a minute I was there, and my baby was on my lap as plain as day.
MRS. GIBBS: Yes, of course you can.
EMILY: I can go back there and live all those days over again . . . why not?
MRS. GIBBS: All I can say is, Emily, don’t.
Warnings aside, we did just venture back to an ancestral place, one that will always have a place in my heart, and although I did discover how powerful the draw to return to one’s past can be, the present is always available, and exactly that, a gift.
These Mohonk Mountain House woods are interrupted by well-traveled paths leading from one gorgeous vista to another to allow for multiple opportunities to pause, to observe, to remember. You can venture through a lemon squeeze labyrinth of narrow rock or scramble across precarious ledges, stroll around a lake or through manicured gardens, get lost and find your way. Sure, there are some folks who might hike these routes swiftly, but, in our opinion, that was not the architect’s intent, as is made clear by the plentiful hand-hewn benches and gazebos placed along your way to Skytop.
For as far as one can see, in every direction, there is something to draw your attention, vast valleys landscaped by wind and water and time alone. From this high point you can appreciate the stewardship we are granted on this one planet, as protectors of sweet air, open space, critters below and winged above, this vast world we alone must preserve. The weight of that fact as hefty as the stone tower we climbed to arrive here, standing where so many of us have stood before, almost touching the heavens.
There are singular sacred spots one holds tightly, often times buried deep in memory. For me, this whole National Historic Landmark resort holds a zillion such spots. Perhaps none quite as much as the gazebo my father returned to under bright sun or slanting rain or even when the path too icy, regardless, he found a way there. As we did the same thunder boomed in the distance, predecessor to the ensuing soaking rain. We took several deep breaths to allow for all that moment granted us standing within the wooden structure. Wind and rain lashed as it has done forever, then, as quickly as the storm rolled in, it passed us by, and with that we moved on too.
Of course, like most of us with a yearning for the past, Emily doesn’t heed Mrs. Gibbs warning and does return to witness her living self, but quickly sees more than she anticipated.
EMILY: Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.
She 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?
STAGE MANAGER: No. The saints and poets, maybe they do some.
We who can see the wonder and beauty around us, the delicate moments which come in brief showers, we must halt there and let Wilder’s caution direct our course. For it is not about death alone that he speaks, but a reminder to grab hold of the present even while face to face with the ancient.
Under clear skies once again, we traverse on gravel and wood and rock, and stop at every vantage, for in this place everywhere is a view worth wasting life’s precious moments. Yesterday, today, and with any luck, for many tomorrows, we will retrace our steps, if for no other reason than to open our eyes to what is important.
EMILY: No I should have listened to you. That’s all human beings are! Just blind people.
MRS. GIBBS: Look, it’s clearing up. The stars are coming out.
EMILY: Oh, Mr. Stimson, I should have listened to them.
SIMON STIMSON: Yes, now you know. Now you know! That’s what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those … of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know that’s the happy existence you wanted to go back to. Ignorance and blindness.
MRS. GIBBS: Simon Stimson, that ain’t the whole truth and you know it. Emily, look at that star. I forget its name.
On this day, my plan is to prove Simon Stimson wrong, for clearly, his is not the whole truth, now is it? We can awaken. We can trod along old pathways glimpsing our younger self dashing between the white rocks or splashing in the deep lake, we can hear the distinctive voices echoing in laughter, and all the while stand solid in this instant.