My daughter Katie just loves musical theatre.
For her 18th birthday I took her to New York City and we saw Les Miserables, which was one of the highlights of her life.
And she recently went back to NYC with friends to see Phantom.
But what she’s really obsessed with right now is the musical Hamilton.
For those of you who don’t know, Hamilton is the first of its kind–it’s a hip hop rap musical that tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, the least well-known Founding Father, who never was able to become president since he lost his life in a duel.
My son-in-law Connor loves it, too, and for the last few months, whenever we make the 3 hour drive between Ottawa, where the kids live, and Belleville, where Keith and I live, we play the musical from start to finish in the car.
Of course the best known song is King George’s “You’ll Be Back“, which the King of England sings to America as if it were a love song. It’s really quite hilarious. Here’s the three kids going at it on one recent drive (just hit play on the audio player! 🙂
But while that song is funny, much of the musical is very touching.
And I totally bawl.
It is beyond beautiful, it is beyond amazing, and I just don’t have words to describe what I want to talk about today. So I’m going to try to do it justice, and I’m going to share some of the recordings from YouTube so that you can feel what I feel.
Seriously, I don’t know if it’s just PMS or perimenopause or what, but I’m just so emotional this week! Maybe it was the 25th anniversary party, maybe it was my kids being home for a week and then leaving again–I don’t know. But I cry at anything. And so I haven’t stopped crying since we listened to this again a few days ago, and I really want to try to convey some of what I’m feeling.
Alexander Hamilton was impulsive, brash, and reckless. He was also brilliant, passionate, and yet at times very pragmatic. But his pragmatism made him blind to others’ faults, assuming that they, like he, would do the wise thing rather than the emotional thing. And it ended up costing him his son’s life and then later his own life. His is a tragic yet amazing story.
He rose from nothing; an orphan who by his own wits and brains got himself to America, put himself through university, won the notice of those in power, and became Washington’s aide during the revolutionary war. He later married Eliza, a debutante, and went on to draft the Constitution. He wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers. He took on cabinet positions under Washington and Adams.
But in those days he also had an affair, and when his political opponents found out about it, he ended up going public with that affair to prevent them being able to blackmail him.
You can imagine what that did to Eliza, but I’ll let her explain. I can’t listen to this without weeping.
Wow. That’s so raw. And I’m thinking of so many that I know who have experienced this kind of betrayal, and how it does rip your heart out, and it does burn.
She lived through that betrayal, but that wasn’t the end of their story.
Just a little while later their only son would attempt to defend Hamilton’s honour in a duel. And while Philip fired in the air, like a man, as his father instructed, his opponent did not waste his shot, and ended up killing him.
As they were grieving their son, Alexander and Eliza found their way back to each other.
But just a scant few years later, Alexander repeated his son’s folly with his political foe Aaron Burr, who ends up shooting Hamilton, ending his life far too early.
The musical does so much to bring the beginning days of the American experiment to life, and does so brilliantly. But what I am left haunted with, thinking about, mulling over every time I get out of the car after that draining, emotional three hour drive when we listen to the whole thing, is: could I have been Eliza?
Listen to her final song, which caps off the play (she comes in about 45 seconds into this):
While a person’s life has many defining moments, they are so much more complex than just those moments.
Alexander Hamilton was brilliant, and he was foundational to the nation. Yet he was such a flawed human being. He allowed passion to blind him to his true love, which was his wife, and to his moral compass.
He allowed his own hunger for power and for significance to let him wound his wife in the worst way possible.
And yet. And yet…he was also tender. He was also profoundly sorry. He was also haunted by regrets. And what consumed him, at every moment, was doing the right thing for the country.
He wrote the Federalist Papers because he wanted the country to do the right thing. He set up the banking system because he wanted the country to get off on the right foot. He fought for what he believed in.
But he failed so badly, too.
And somehow, after his death, Eliza was able to reconcile both sides of him.
And she was able to rise up from tremendous grief, after losing both her husband and her son, and was able to dedicate time and energy to making sure the country remembered Alexander through organizing his writings. But she also became political, and fought for an end to slavery and for justice for orphans.
She lived out the ideals that he wanted America to stand for. She didn’t let that betrayal colour their marriage to such an extent that she could not also see the good.
And then she made sure that she carried on what she would say was his legacy (and what I would say was really hers, or at least theirs), and she founded that orphanage. And she did tremendous good in his name.
I don’t know what lesson I’m trying to say today, and I don’t really know how to sum this all up.
I guess it’s just to say that life is so full of pain–so very, very full of deep hurts–that we must find a way to both accept and embrace the pain and still bring some good out of it.
In the Bible, King David was such a flawed king. He had an affair with Bathsheba that ended with getting her husband killed. He was a polygamist and a horrible father. And yet he did so much for the nation, and God still called him a man “after his own heart.”
We can totally mess up, but God sees the whole picture.
Are we able to see that? Are we able to make sure that our lives count for something; that we don’t let those few moments of profound weakness define everything? That we manage to rise above that and keep striving for what is good and for what our purpose is?
I was speaking with a friend recently who is haunted by how much she yelled at her kids when they were younger. Will that define their memories of her, she wonders? And yet, even as she’s talking about this, she seems to be forgetting all of the laughter and all of the excursions to the zoo and all of the water fights in the summer.
Don’t we do that?
And so I wonder: “What will be my story?” What will be the story that my children tell of my life? What will be the legacy that I leave them? Can I make sure that the few moments of profound weakness, whatever they may be, don’t define everything? That I keep moving towards what I feel called to do, even when it’s hard?
And can I push through the emotion and the tears and the sadness, without denying them?
Like the Princess Bride says,
Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.
Life is pain. But it is not only pain. And in the midst of pain, I hope and pray that we all can remember that.