In college I took a course called Hard Choices with the late, great Ed Beiser ( RI supreme court expert, and court appointed something important in the Van Bulow trial made famous by Jeremy Irons). He was already headed down hill when I got there, but as a colleague of my mothers and unofficial keeper of the jews at Brown he took a special interest in me. Despite my admiration of his style and tenacity I was unimpressed by the class. It seemed he was trying to introduce us to the radical idea of shades of grey. Think theft is wrong? What about stealing medicine for a dying child. This flipping wrong into right and taking away the identity of both might have been disruptive to earlier generations, but my classmates and I lived in the grey. Absolutism would have been radical.
I had one of the most painful nights of my life at his house at a sedar. The pre meal readings lated 3 hours and were entirely in hebrew. He ran his sedar like his class, drilling those of us at his folding table on Torah passages and morality. I was 2 weeks into school. I had dropped out of hebrew school and had not been batmizvahed. I was not a functional jew.
Hebrew passage. Yawn. Question. Yawn.
My yawning jag pretty much never ended. I mean. I yawned in sequence for 2 hours. I couldn’t even eat my chicken. A grad student drove me back to my dorm and told me I was unlikely to make the sedar list next time. Yawn.
In one sense our lives are a constant series of choices. The big choices, the hard ones, we give close consideration…where to live, who to marry, what work to do, whether or not to have a child. Once the decision is made that process leaves our minds. Yet, each morning when we wake up we choose our lives again, the status quo of partners, careers, school placement, eating habits. Sometimes we have a mindful shakeup, sometimes responsive change. Sometimes a desired change fails. I think the majority of our decision making happens under the surface. Unexamined.
Speaking with my mother this morning about a potential hard choice she kept using the phrases “good decision” and “bad decision.” I was interested in how those phrases stopped me in my mental tracks. Like the shades of grey in Beiser’s hard choices class, the absolutes of right and wrong, good and bad are barely in my lexicon.
It makes taking risks easier I guess. My way of believing that the choices can’t be bad, and the choosing never ends.