Pippin's Quest for Meaning Reveals Enlightenment at Home, by Larkin Oates

Saturday night, my family and I enjoyed the vibrant, acrobatic, and often humorous revival of the Broadway musical Pippin. The Cirque de Soleil backdrop for the story, added by Director Diane Paulus was brilliant. That coupled with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, the show had us all spell bound. In this story, King Charlemagne’s son Pippin seeks his life’s deeper purpose. Historically set around 800 AD, the performance was a visually stunning mix of medieval, Barnum and Bailey, and late 1800’s steampunk imagery, punctuated by Pilates balls and aerial silks.

Throughout dynamic and colorful scenes, Pippin searches from within the military and the arts, to shallow relationships and revolution to find fulfillment. However, he becomes depressed and collapses on the street.

Enter the widow Catherine who finds him thusly and brings him home. When revived, Pippin resists the monotonous laboring Catherine and her son Theo must do to run her estate. He is utterly bored until he helps Theo with his sick duck and only then does compassion lead Pippin to care for the boy.

This ‘ordinary’ life was ultimately what Pippin most treasures. And, in the end, as the traveling theater group takes away the magnificent sets and costumes, Pippin chooses to stay behind with Catherine and Theo. Even without colorful lighting, curtains, and props, they remain alone on the stage, fulfilled in their family unit.

The simplicity of the menial life Pippin choses brings to mind the famous saying, “To find enlightenment, one must chop wood and carry water,” …and try to heal Theo’s duck.

Personally, I searched for fulfillment all over the country and ultimately returned to Nashville. Here, I am finally in one place long enough to experience family and community in a way that is deeply meaningful with moments of the extraordinary.

For example, prior to Pippin on Saturday, I enjoyed dinner with my parents, husband, and stepdaughter at California Pizza. After ordering, I watched my parents magically lure our silent and sometimes sullen teenager into conversation. The smiling responses my parents received both surprised and delighted me.

Like Pippin, I now realize that real and meaningful experience is often found within the simple rituals of daily life, like dining. There, one can develop the precious experiences of healthy relationships.

To those who have created their own families (biological or not), this may seem obvious. However, after living for decades as the lone roving artist and student, I feel I have lost the art of cooking and dining.

Now, my newish family with four mostly grown children have our weekends together in a unique and tiny house with a miniscule kitchen. It is often daunting to envision cooking, much less cooking with, and/or eating with them. Typically, we all spend enormous amounts of time on technical devices, seemingly living within the virtual world, separate from each other. The kids hunker down in their rooms engaged in digital spaces and relationships beyond my comprehension and only seem to slink out occasionally for a snack. I am told this isolation is somewhat typical of teens and young adults. However, my husband and I sometimes feel clueless as to how to bring this family together for meals and build our relationships.

This brings me to my moment of insight after seeing Pippin. What Pippin and I previously saw as the depressing and oppressive domestic tasks of family, turn out to create the environment in which to experience relationships. Ah ha!!!! To develop relationship, chop wood, and carry water!

Ultimately, I find hope in that the kids are kind and do emerge from their rooms sometimes. Then, my husband and I can lure them with food to sit at the table and we can see them as humans instead of as a caricatured version of teens.

In hindsight, my view on family was a bit like the Pippin cast’s blue shadowed Steampunk faces which beautifully echo Toulouse Lautrec’s exaggerated dancers—a bit off kilter. Similar to Pippin, I am finding deeper meaning and fulfillment in the ordinary rituals of life. Therefore, when we all have meals with my parents, I study how Mom and Dad wondrously engage and brighten silent youths. It is in those moments that I can witness the extraordinary magic and simplicity of relationships.

Larkin Oates, MA, Integrative Therapist