Emily Webb, who dies in childbirth, is only a teenager herself when she passes away. Despite the other deceased characters' advice, she decides to revisit one day in her small-town life.
On her twelfth birthday, Emily observes the town before the recent changes: there are many horses and no cars. She recognizes people she knew, such as Constable Warren, whom she knows has since passed away. The constable speaks with her father, just returned from a city visit, about once having saved a man who might have frozen outside in the winter, but he downplays Mr. Webb's suggestion that it was heroic.
Emily's parents' age makes an impression. She remarks on their youthful appearance. She sees her mother in the kitchen of their home and chats with her over breakfast. Her efforts to speak about events since that day are futile.
Emily finds the whole experience unbearable and goes back to the afterlife setting. Realizing how much daily life occupies people, Emily is saddened by the waste of precious time. She asks rhetorically, "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?"
Before taking her place among the dead for eternity, Emily is allowed to "relive" the happiest day of her ife. She chooses her twelfth birthday. First, she sees people going about the business of the day, and then her family has gifts for her. She notices how young her parents look to her now.
The fact that people rush around in their busy lives without really seeing each other or paying attention to each is distressing to Emily. She wants to take it all in, savor each moment and each word spoken, but ordinary life goes by too quickly. She realizes that it's the little things of life, the things people take for granted--a smile, a hug, a comforting word, a little attention--that really matter.