[Yes, it's another Sondheim post.]
I have always loved the song "Move On" from Sunday in the Park with George. It is beautiful, it is moving.
It is also incredibly well-crafted, without being ostentatious. So much so that one of the evidences of that craft eluded me until the past few days, even though I have heard the song many, many times.
In the song, Dot (George's former lover) is advising his grandson (also named George) how to deal with the fear he has that he can no longer create anything new. George expresses frustration and yearning to create "something new, something of my own." Dot tells him to "move on."
She sings briefly of her own decisions. Until the past few days, I thought her line was "I chose and my world was shaken, so what? The choice may have been mistaken, but choosing was not." It personalizes her advice to him.
The line in fact is "The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not." It might seem like an insignificant difference. It is not.
The change from "but" to "the" makes the language of the song more formal, more distanced. This is apposite: the song is not about Dot, except incidentally, but about George and his future. (It is also a resolution of the relationship between Dot and (the first) George.) "Choosing" in the line as I first understood it is a verb. The way that Sondheim wrote the line, "choosing" is a noun, an object, a choice in and of itself to be made.
Choosing versus not choosing. Movement versus stagnation. Hope versus fear.
As the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy observed to me when we were discussing this song, we cannot know whether we have chosen wisely or poorly until we in fact choose. If we stay still we may not fail, but neither will we grow. Sondheim captured that idea perfectly.
In Finishing the Hat, Sondheim states that "God is in the details." It is indeed. Something as simple as the change of one three letter word to another can deepen the meaning of a song. Sondheim is nothing if not a master of the details.
One of the reasons I have always loved this song is that it encapsulates a recurring issue in my own life: where do I go? How can I grow? I come to my own creative and personal crossroads, and far too often I am paralyzed by what seems like the panopoly of possible directions.
Maybe you simply need to pick a direction and go. Maybe you simply need to make a choice without obsessing whether it would be the best possible choice in all possible universes.
Maybe you simply need to move on.