Lessons Learned from Pam Beesly Halpert

May 20, 2013 | By | Add a Comment

Pam Jim Jam“There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that the point?” – Pam Beesly Halpert

That was the final line from the final episode of The Office. It was also the line that had me up late at night, once again reading about the guy who wrote Our Town. I’ve always felt a bond with Thornton Wilder. He wrote the famous play wrote in his 30s. I am in my 30s now. He spent time living in New Hampshire. Our family moved to New Hampshire when I was 5. The play was set in a small town in New Hampshire, just like the one I grew up in. But even though Our Town was set in a fictional town in New Hampshire, its themes could be applied anywhere – like Scranton, Pennsylvania.

According to Wikipedia, Wilder drafted the entire third act of Our Town in one day after a long evening walk in the rain with his friend. I wonder what it was that Wilder and his friend talked about during that long walk in the rain. Did they talk about life and love? How about the beauty and trauma in the passage of time? Perhaps the sacredness of ordinary life?  I would imagine they touched on Psalm 39:5 – that each of us, at best, is but a breath.

One of the most famous lines in Our Town comes when Emily declares, “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Does anyone ever realize life while they live it… every, every minute?” The stage manager replies, “No. Saints and poets maybe… they do some.” It isn’t until Emily looks back at her life from the grave that she “becomes agonized by the beauty and transience of everyday life”. Only in death is she able to notice the wonder of living that had been with her all along.

Wilder continually and almost desperately pleads for the audience to open their eyes. Elsewhere in the play, he writes:

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.

As the Spark Notes put it, Wilder’s main message in the play is that people should appreciate the details and interactions of their rather ordinary lives while they live them. If not, they might end up like Andy Bernard lamenting, “I wish there was some way to know that you’re in the good old days before you leave them.”


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The only problem I had with Pam’s quote is that it didn’t seem fully baked. There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Yes – I fully agree. But then she says “Isn’t that the point?” This is where she loses me. What is the point? Is she saying that the point of life is to find beauty? Is she saying that the funny thing about beauty is that it is often simple and easy to go unnoticed? Is she remarking that the paradox about ordinary things is that they’re really extraordinary?

If I had to guess what the point is, I would say that the point is to wake up and pay attention. The point is to take nothing for granted, realize all your blessings and hold them tight before they are gone. The point is to focus your time and attention on what really matters. It is to live life in the present in a way that brings the least amount of regret in the future. The point is to realize life while you live it… every, every minute.

Is anyone able to do this? According to Stage Manager in the play, Saints and poets maybe… they do some. Perhaps one of these was Elizabeth Browning, who wrote:

Earth is crammed with heaven,
And every bush is aflame with God
But only those who see, take off their shoes
The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.

And, first a show about nothing and then another about a mundane job are able to point out that truth that sometimes it isn’t the devil that is in the details, but earth crammed with heaven.

So, as Clarke wrote in his commentary on Psalm 90:12, Let us number our days. Let us deeply consider our own frailty, and the shortness and uncertainty of life, that we may live for eternity, acquaint ourselves with God and be at peace; that we may die in His favor and live and reign with Him eternally.

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