My Adventures with Hamilton

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There are moments when destiny reaches out its blessed hand and touches a soul – sparking inspiration, igniting passion, and setting action to courses that will ripple through the spirit of humanity. Such a moment happened when Lin-Manuel Miranda was struck with the concept of Hamilton: An American Musical. It is beautiful in creation and its story is a resounding one. Of course, we have the brilliant talent of Ron Chernow to thank in assisting such an inspiration. And we cannot go on without taking off our hats to bow in reverence to the one who lived the life that inspired both men.  Alexander Hamilton – the man whose passions live on and serve us still today through Manuel’s artistry – 212 years after his death. I like to imagine that part of him knew – had hoped – that his story would be used in such a way. And that he is glad for it.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the indescribable pleasure of seeing Hamilton live in Chicago. Now, allow me to set the stage for you (if you’ll pardon the phrase). After hearing so much about the musical from me, and knowing my fondness for musicals in general, my husband bought me the Original Soundtrack about 9 months ago. And it has been playing in my car – and at home – nonstop ever since. Even our 11 month old son knows the lyrics by heart (in case Philip ever needs an understudy). You can come to learn a musical quite intimately through just its sound. You can hear the passion in the voices and see the playing on stage in your mind’s eye – and Hamilton is both brilliantly written and performed to allow just that.

So, when I had to part from my family for the first time for a business trip to Chicago – I couldn’t let the moment pass without paying homage to the creation that has captivated my mind and spirit.

I was staying in a suburb of Chicago. After dinner one night, this very much not-big-city gal jumps in her rental car and navigates her way into the depths of Chicago city. I say this because it is part of the journey. As one might do in a new place (with lots of construction), I took a wrong turn and quickly found myself in a neighborhood after dark that I will admit made me check twice to see if my doors were locked. I’m a first generation college graduate whose first home during childhood was a thin trailer house with a single coal burning stove to keep the family warm during those Northeastern winters. So, please believe me when I say there was no judgement here – but the irony hit me about the nature of the artistry I was about to behold and how I wished I could bring everyone in this neighborhood with me to witness its great battle cry! This was theirs even more than it is mine.

At last, I made it downtown. I parked in the garage, double checked my ticket and made my way to the ground level. The elevator brought me to a large, open and modern lobby to an office building. Hurrying through it, I made my way toward the doors that would open up to reveal the splendor of the lights and fanfare of the PrivateBank Theater and the marquee signs that read HAMILTON!

The sight took my breath away – and I would not regain it until well past the closing of the curtain. I joined into the herd trying to escape the bitter cold and make their way to sit in front of the glory of the set before the show. I was tucked under the mezzanine between a beam and another young woman who was also there alone – and decidedly not letting such an opportunity pass to be a part of history.

Filing into the gilded house with red velvet seats, the crowd’s energy could be felt building with anticipation and excitement. Then, at the queue of dimmed lights, the crowd calmed and all eyes were captivated as Mr. Burr donned the stage.

Again, I feel like I know this play backwards and forwards – like so many other Americans that have become captivated by Hamilton. I sing it in my sleep. My husband and I enact scenes to entertain our baby. We even had our own two man performance at the site of Yorktown a few months prior – baby didn’t quite get it, but it made him laugh. But nothing – NOTHING – prepared me for its full glory. The cast, crew and swings filled my heart to its absolute fullest.

There are a few elements that completely took me by surprise – one being the crucial role of the lighting. I have seen musicals on Broadway in New York City, but this was a whole new level. It went beyond completing the imagination of the set. As a movie’s soundtrack serves its emotional pace, the lighting of this show captivated and controlled every moment of emotion on that stage.

The second amazing element to behold was the quintessential role of the dancers. Time and time again, I found my attention drawn away from the main characters – captivated by the cleanness of moves and execution. (It didn’t help that I developed a lady crush on Samantha Pollino.) The beauty of their completion of the action on stage is something you cannot get from the soundtrack. The joy, energy and perfection of the dancers brought the musical yet another step above its counterparts.

Then there is the humor. You can hear the word play and tone through the recording, but to witness the joy that performing this musical brings to the cast kept me in constant euphoria. Alexander Gemignani made King George completely his own and played with the orchestra and audience. Chris De’Sean Lee was brilliant as Lafayette and Jefferson – and Wallace Smith as Madison was more than I could handle!

It is hard to call out just few of the cast members with a good conscious, because each member has put their heart and soul into their role, and I can say that confidently because it emanates from the stage and wraps around the audience – inviting us into the family that has been created by them.

And that brings me to the crux of the matter – the larger than life impact of this masterpiece that truly hit me during Yorktown. Beyond the brilliance of the composition and lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s creation, this play is brilliant in that it reaches into your very essence and unlocks liberation.

233 Years ago – the men and women portrayed on that stage gave their lives and fought to ultimately create a country for the liberator, and the song struck me – particularly after the play’s most recent press attention… the Revolution never ended. The United States has her independence, but we have not yet stopped fighting for the ideals and freedoms of each other. And now is not the time to.

A subject not mentioned in the musical, but is discussed in Chernow’s book, is the New York Manumission Society that was formed to fight for the freedom of slaves after the war. Hamilton didn’t stop the pursuit of abolition when it was not included in the original negotiations of laws for the establishment of this land. And when the sad irony was brought to the forefront that members of this very organization still owned slaves, Hamilton wrote an immediate and decisive plan to liberate them. As with many bold notions Hamilton wrote, it was rejected, but the point stands. This was not a man simply of ideals but of action – as is perfectly portrayed by the sentiments expressed by Burr in Hamilton as we follow their relationship to Hamilton’s death.

For Lin-Manuel Miranda to resurrect such a man and bring his story to life with this style and casting is no coincidence. It is not merely an act of progressivism. It in itself is an on-mark tribute to who Hamilton was and a beautifully perfect reflection of the aspects of Hamilton’s life for which he would want to be remembered best.

In an era that may seem tumultuous and uncertain, take heart in this story that shows the true American dream and has served first hand in passing it along to others. The voice of the people is loud and waiting in the wing united. We stand united with you. We are Hamiltonians who are not afraid to voice our beliefs with steadfast conviction and unyielding certainty. This is a country for those who believe in the prosperity of all, and we are a nation of fighters.

Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda, for bringing this story to such life and for giving us a ballad to ignite the fires and remind us that it is never over – NOT YET.

Against the Culture

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(Trigger Warning)

There’s a cyclone building — a furry of sentiments fighting to be heard in an already volatile storm of fear. My challenge to you is to step outside of those whipping winds that are drowning the world and hone your ears towards the whispers and whimpers of a voice that has long been muted. There is a culture that has been ignored with downward cast eyes accompanied by an awkward shrug of the shoulders. Sometimes it has even been seen with a spotlight cast over it but quickly swept under the rug. Well, friends, that rug is starting to bulge and the nails are beginning to stick through. Those eyes need to look up with hands ready for education and action. It is time that the shadows where sexual harassment, aggression, assault, and rape cower are extinguished with light. No longer can it be made a pawn for political positioning. Not one more victim should be made a martyr for the cause of human decency. The voices of these children, women and men must echo over us until we, as a collected global entity, finally come to understand what we are doing to ourselves when we continue to silence it.

A woman posted on a business Facebook group asking the company if they sold maternity bras. A man unrelated to the company saw her post and responded to her asking if she had a picture of what was to go inside the product and added “lol jk.” The woman kept her composure, despite being made terribly uncomfortable by his comment, and replied respectfully saying she noticed his profile stated he was in a relationship, how inappropriate it is for him to be making such a comment and to please leave the post.

Sadly, this sort of exchange is no surprise to any woman who interacts on social media. It is no surprise to the women who interact with the world outside of social media either. What is surprising is why this woman put this exchange on another large social media group asking if her response was acceptable. Her mother saw the interaction and told her daughter that her response was inappropriate – that she had let it get under her skin and should not have said anything at all. The woman was now seeking advice from the other ladies of the group to see if she truly was out of line.

Reading both parts of this post, I had simultaneous reactions of heartbreak and rage. Like countless others, I have also been in situations where men responded inappropriately and unsolicited – and I have been told that I was overreacting with my response.

The first time this happened – I was nine years old. A little boy in my class had a crush on me, and our mothers thought it was adorable enough to get us together to kindle a friendship. I remember it being bitterly cold outside. There was snow on the ground – just enough to blanket the soil of the harvested corn fields outside our farm house. That’s where we were playing. We were pushing each other around in a blue plastic sled when he simply stated he wanted to go inside. As any good friend would, I obliged. Warming up, we sat on the floor in front of the TV in the living room when he said he would be right back, got up and walked away. Some time passed. I still sat on the floor, knees under my chin and arms wrapped around my shins, when he came running into the room knocking me over and pinning me to the ground with his body. Holding down my arms, he started kissing all over my face and neck, trying to move down my body, as I wrestled to break free from him. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I knew something inside me was violently fighting against it. Something was screaming – telling me my person was not my own, my body was being taken advantage of – I was being taken advantage of – but I didn’t know why or for what purpose.

After a few short seconds, I was able to kick him off. I ran upstairs to my bedroom and sat at my desk wondering what had happened and what, if anything, was to be done. At that time, I only had beads hanging in my doorframe – and no means of locking him out. Moments later, he came charging again into my room. Several strands of those beads were ripped, the strings broken off of the doorframe. He landed on my bed, and before he could say anything, I stood up and finally yelled at him to get out – we were no longer friends! He showed remorse and said he was sorry but stayed in my room until his parents came to pick him up.

I remember standing on the stairs next to my mom watching him leave. Once the front door was closed, I turned to my mother and told her what had happened. “He pushed me to the ground and kissed me,” I told her. I didn’t have the words to describe any other details about what had happened. I didn’t know to say, “Mom, I was harassed. Mom, I was forced into a sexual situation that I didn’t want and didn’t understand.” Instead, I had to let her know in the simplest form. Her response was much like what the woman who had shown the Facebook posting to her mother received – and much like what many of us women are told when we share moments of sexual harassment. “Oh, he just likes you,” she said. “It’s no big deal.” You’re overreacting. You’re making too much out of this. Brush it under the rug and be sure to wear shoes while in the house.

My mother and I turned and walked back up the steps.

I didn’t know the consequences that would follow me through the years from this experience. Only recently have I come to discover that this moment was a catalyst in a life of trying to reconcile wanting, and at the same time not wanting, attention from boys. I even dumped a boyfriend when I was 14 for kissing me on my cheek without asking. My consciousness still had not been able to clarify whether this was right or wrong. But again, I was berated for my response to the kiss – I was overreacting. Such attentions are suppose to be flattering.

At one point in my life – shortly after college – I believed I had reconciled what had happened. They were just kisses. It wasn’t really a big deal. We were both so young and surely he didn’t know what he was doing at the time. As social media is designed to allow us, I reconnected with him with a simple friend request. He is married with a wonderful family. He looked happy through the limited window that social media gives us. All things were great. But something was still not settled. Each time I saw one of his status updates come across my news feed that antsy twitch would start again in my consciousness. My heart rate would pick up, and I would become anxious. No, I couldn’t do this to myself. I unfriended him and decided it was time to truly examine my experience. It was no longer something to be brushed away. It was time to allow its true definition to be written. I had been sexually assaulted. I no longer needed anyone else’s approval of this definition. I had it for myself. Now, I could move forward.

Years later, while in a successful, satisfying and joyfully overflowing marriage full of love – I am able to look back on these situations, place identity on them and sort through them. It leaves me with an enraged voice for the women (and men) who are continually harassed and told to be silent by the generations before – and even our own. Without a shift of focus on what sexual harassment truly is – and the broad scale it encompasses – we will never start to educate and begin the change that needs to take place to stop it. We will continue to make excuses for those executing it, and we will continue to silence the voice of those who are victims. Let’s not allow another generation of children to be raised to think that the calling for a woman to smile to make her more attractive for a man is just a consequence of her gender. A woman contributing to the commerce of a business should not be the subject of a trolling man seeking his own sexual satisfaction. A little girl kissed against her will should not be told it is playground antics. It leads to men who believe women are made for their pleasure – who are meant to be objectified and ranked according to their desires – and it leads to women who believe a whistle on the street is flattering when the tiny voice of panic is doused with “but it’s okay.” Stop justifying!

By allowing such things, we give rise to children with sunken shoulders. We give rise to women under the outstretched palm of an an overbearing man. Instead, let’s empower! Let’s educate our children. Let us listen to what they are trying to tell us. Let’s give voice to our own grown society and stand in unity to fight against the oppressors who cultivate the rape culture of our society. Give back the faith that there is community and comfort on the other side of such pain – and offer light for a future where this culture is no more and their voices no longer muted. #womenunited #empoweredvoices #neveralone