My favorite play of all time is Our Town by Thornton Wilder.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning drama portrays the lives of Emily Webb and George Gibbs, neighbors and friends who live in the tight-knit and fictitious community of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. After years of growing up together, George and Emily finally acknowledge their mutual affection one afternoon during their junior year of high school. As they discuss their feelings for one another over strawberry ice-cream sodas, George observes gravely, “So I guess this is an important talk we’ve been having” (72).
George and Emily’s important talk motivates them to act on their love and get married. Prior to their wedding, the play’s narrator reflects on the “big decisions” leading up to their wedding day and muses, “This wedding, this plan to spend a lifetime together. I’m awfully interested how big things like that begin” (62).
Like the narrator, I find myself “awfully interested” in “big decisions” and “big things” pertaining to love. And over the years, I have realized that I love Our Town because the play ultimately conveys this simple yet profound message: love is a choice, and it is a choice we make by overcoming our fears.
Even after choosing to love one another, Emily and George find themselves facing fears on their wedding day. Emily’s father pulls the young couple aside and asks George if he thinks he can take care of Emily. George replies, “Mr. Webb, I want to . . . I want to try.” Then George says to Emily, “Emily, I’m going to do my best. I love you, Emily.” Emily responds, “Well, if you love me, help me. All I want is someone to love me.” When George promises her he will, they fall into each other’s arms, no longer afraid or anxious. Pleased by this result, Emily’s father assures them, “Now you know it’ll be all right,” and they proceed with their wedding (80-81).
George and Emily are far from perfect, but their desire to be selfless in their relationship—to try—renders their love powerful, even powerful enough to drive away their fears. This principle reminds me of the biblical passage 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.” Like Emily and George on their wedding day, I think we all experience fear and doubt. Nevertheless, when we choose to love selflessly (albeit imperfectly) and when we try (however feeble our attempts may seem), we can cast out our fears.
One synonym for selfless love is charity, or “the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47). Jesus Christ is the source of pure and selfless love and of the power that such love begets. In the New Testament, Paul explains this concept in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” In this verse, Paul teaches us that God empowers us to overcome our fears by giving us peace and love.
So how can we choose love? We can cast out our fears. We can believe that God will give us power and a sound mind as we act selflessly; we can remember that the purest and truest love is the love that comes from and was exemplified by Jesus Christ, who taught that love is the great imperative of the two “great commandment(s)” in Christian law (Matthew 22:36-40). Like George Gibbs promises Emily and Mr. Webb, we can promise Jesus Christ that we will do our best and try to love.
I am well aware that today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday that celebrates romantic love more than the charity and love of the New Testament. But I would assert that the two are by no means mutually exclusive. Romantic love cannot succeed without charity and its inherent selflessness. And charity can often be expressed most beautifully in our relationships with others. Be they strangers or our nearest and dearest, we can treat others with Christlike and selfless compassion—with love.
Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to reflect on how well we are cultivating charity and love in our own lives. It is a great day to reflect on what fears or doubts we need to cast out so that we can feel empowered to love. It is a great day to realize that even in the face of “big things” and “big decisions” (like our relationship statuses, career paths, and other life milestones), we can have “a sound mind” as we recognize God’s love for us and try to show that love to others.
So friends and readers of RealLifeAnswers, I want to wish you a very happy Valentine’s Day. I hope that today you choose love. And if you do, I promise you what Mr. Webb promised Emily and George: “it’ll be all right.”
Wilder, Thornton. Our Town. New York: Harper Perennial, 2003.