A Matter of Choice: Why Go to Pippin? | February 19, 2016

A Matter of Choice: Why Go to Pippin?

Over Presidents Day Weekend, I was driving though the Florham Park shopping area – the one with Trader Joe's and Dunkin Donuts, the one where Red Mango used to be. It was a very cold and windy day, and as I drove by Trader Joe's, heading out of the shopping area, I spotted an elderly woman pushing her shopping cart. She was bundled against the weather, and wearing a wool coat and fur hat. As I slowed to let her cross the road, a gust of wind blew the hat off her head and onto the sidewalk. The wind was sweeping her hat further and further from her, and I saw her hesitate, trying to decide whether she should let go of her cart to fetch the hat. She decided to let go of the cart and as she did, it began to careen into the street towards my car. The cart gathered speed, and I gunned the engine to avoid being broadsided. From my rearview mirror, I could see her clutching her hat as she scurried to retrieve the now run-away cart that was hurtling towards James St. You see, in that moment, she had to make a choice between saving her hat or saving the cart, and although she retrieved her hat, she almost lost her cart.

We have to make these choices all the time. Throughout our day, we are faced with hundreds of decisions, and choice is important to us. We want to be able to choose what we eat, what time we go to bed, what we wear. Beyond these small decisions, we want to be able to choose our school, our career, our friends.But choice can also be very scary because we do not know the outcome of our choices. When we are wrestling with college choices, for example, we might wonder: What will it mean for my life if I choose to go to college in Massachusetts rather than in Virginia? Or what if we choose not to go to school at all?

One day when he was in second grade, my son Tyler decided he was not going to go to school. Normally a huge rule follower, he does not remember why it was that he suddenly decided he would not go to school that day, but he does remember that as the car turned onto Tower Road, he simply decided he was going to keep his seat belt buckled and remain in the back of the car. Mrs. Caldwell, his second grade teacher, and the head of Lower School all tried every tactic they could think of, but Tyler would not budge. Eventually they got Mr. Markley, the gym teacher. Mr. Markley leaned his giant torso through the front window of the car, and he said: "Tyler, you have two choices. You can get out that door or you can get out this door."Tyler chose the door furthest from the gym teacher, jumped out of the car, and ran into school.

Although we want freedom to decide our path, choices can be hard because choosing one option may close off other options, and we don't like to close off options. Also, choices invariably entail transition and change. When you make a decision, usually this has to do with your future and a change in the status quo, and that, too, is scary.

But the decision to go to Pippin is not a scary one. Pippin is a boy your age who needs to make choices, and he has no idea what he wants. He lacks role models and guidelines, and he cannot figure out how to make his way in the world. Like you, he does not have a road map to his destiny. He has always been told that if he just works hard enough, he can live the American Dream, but after college it is becoming increasingly clear to him that he may not find the extraordinary life he imagines for himself. Like all of us, Pippin wants to make the right choices and to find his "corner in the sky." Like all of us, he can be annoying and selfish, and sometimes he finds himself pretending to be things he is not. And like all of us, he believes that if he makes the right choices, he will have the exceptional life that he yearns for.

All of you have faced a multitude of choices this year, some seem life changing and others may appear less significant. How do you know what route to take? What should dictate your decision on these big life-changing choices?

I would argue that the smaller day-to-day choices matter as much or maybe even more than the seemingly more significant ones. The small choices where one makes contact with another human being are the moments that endure. Choices where you have a conversation with someone even as you rush to hurry out the door, choices where you thank people for something they have done, or when you take the time to visit with your grandparent on grandparents' day. Or when you help your mom or dad with something even when you don't really feel like it. These small choices matter, and they shape who you are.

So, back to the title of the talk, why would you choose to go to Pippin? You would go because you and Pippin have a lot in common, and you will feel interested to watch him make choices and interested what he discovers at the end of the play. You would go to Pippin to support the many community members who are involved in this production. On a more philosophical note, you would go to Pippin because the arts help us understand ourselves and our place in the world. They help us understand who we are and what we believe in. They are fundamental to what it means to be human. As JFK once said: "... art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment." For these reasons and to find out the choices that Pippin ultimately makes, I hope that you choose to attend Pippin.


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