Planting Seeds

If you have children of a certain age, or if you just happen to love musical theater, then you know the power of the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat. My kids’ recent favorite song is “Non-Stop,” but my twelve year old can belt “Helpless” with an understudy’s zeal; my eight year old can roll his r’s just like Jonathan Groff’s King George III in “I’ll Be Back,”; and my ten year old has been known to pass a melancholic, quarantined afternoon with “It’s Quiet Uptown” on repeat.

My personal favorite, though, is a song that the kids usually skip. “The World Was Wide Enough” sets the scene for the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. In a play that harnesses the drama and intrigue of American history to such a degree that even an eight year old can sit watching with riveted attention, this is arguably its most dramatic and powerful moment. As the song builds and Burr fires his shot, the scene freezes around them. Here, Alexander Hamilton gives us his last words:

“Legacy—what is a legacy?” he asks. “It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see. I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me. America, you great unfinished symphony …”

If I forced my kids to listen to this bit of drama over and over, they’d whine: “Mom, this is so sad!” and we’d flip back through to “Satisfied,” or “Wait for It,” depending on the mood. But for me, “The World Was Wide Enough” captures Lin Manuel Miranda’s inspiration at its height, and it carries a message especially prescient for today’s America.

We often relegate the word “legacy” to people who are capital-I “important.” Famous nation-builders, writers, artists, physicians and pioneers in all manner of fields leave legacies. But what about our friends and neighbors? What about us? What seeds are we planting in the gardens we’ll never see?

Now less than two weeks from the outcome of an election that could just as easily be likened to a reckoning, I think about this. Last week, as I stood in line for an hour and a half at my local early voting precinct, I felt so proud to be a part of a country whose founders envisioned raising our minds and our voices rather than raising our guns.

Alongside me was an elderly man shuffling through the infinite line dragging his bad leg by a walker. A woman and her husband dressed beautifully for this unique and privileged occasion. She was wearing a feathered hat. Two haggard, unshaven guys behind me discussed the books we passed as we wound through the stacks of the public library before reaching the voting booth. A woman well ahead of me in the maze broke rank for just a second to compliment a faraway voter on her shoes.

America, the beautiful. America, the complicated, the imperfect, the human. The unfinished. How I love thee.

You, yourself, might be standing in line to vote as you read this. Or you might be planning to watch the debate tonight, to see if it will help you make your final choice. You may be wrestling with messages from your upbringing–past wounds and loyalties that get in the way of clarity.

Or, you might feel a bit defeated and apathetic: does any of this even matter? I think we all know what Alexander Hamilton would say to you: definitively, it does.

On our way home from school each weekday, we pass a beautiful white church on a prominent street. I first saw the protesters gather there in May, but they looked a little different from the people peacefully protesting and rioting in the streets of cities’ downtowns. This brave cluster was made up of elderly white people. Some of them leaned on canes; all of them wore masks. They held Black Lives Matters signs, standing six feet apart in their geriatric shoes, and they rang cowbells. (Who doesn’t love a little cowbell?) At first, there were no more than a handful of them — five or six at most. Over the summer and fall they’ve grown to forty or more.

This week we saw them again, and the kids and I had a Hamilton moment as we slowly drove by. “Who Tells Your Story” was on full blast, and we had the windows down. The day held that warm, soft autumn light that makes October in the South so wonderful. My eight year old leaned as far out the window as he could safely do. “The Oldies are protesting, Mom!” he said with delight. In his face was this incredible mixture of hope and joy. I’ll never forget it. They’re planting seeds in a garden they may never see. For my kids, it’s a lesson that you don’t have to stop growing even as you grow old.

Beneath the political noise and the fear-mongering, the paid political advertisements, the endless loop of your newsfeed, and the drone of cable news, Hamilton inspires this one helpful, clarifying question:

What might bloom in the garden where you intend to plant your seeds?

Vote wisely, friends. History has its eyes on us.

A Plan For Tomorrow

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

By the time all this is over, my hair will be gray at the temples, gray at the roots–and not from the stress of quarantine, though it is stressful–but because the gray is something I’ve been covering for years.

By the time all this is over, I wonder: what else will be laid bare that has been hiding in plain sight?

I picture myself in mid-May–or will it be August? Or November? Will we, after so many days unmarked, even know? I’ll drop the kids at school to gather supplies abandoned before their worlds stopped turning. They’ll clean out their desks and discover little bags of goldfish crackers and nutri-grain bars shoved to the back of their cubbies, long forgotten; wrinkled papers covered in math they used to know; spiral-bound agendas whose daily trends toward progress will look, even to them, naive.

No one will be able to fool them then. Tomorrow, it will be clear, is only an idea, a matter of hours.

But it is the hope of tomorrow that still gets me up in the morning. Nine days in to quarantine also means nine days out.

When it happens–when the world opens up again–I will be radiant. So will you.

I will be fearfully, joyfully, wildly gray; kinder, maybe.

I will be older. So will you.

We will enter in to the world then with a tender awareness of the many things we each have been covering up all this time and how they have been laid bare.

It will be okay, whatever you are afraid of. You can’t see the helpers now, but they will be there, emerging from their homes; appearing next to you, where they maybe have been hidden all along; walking alongside you on a road you’d thought abandoned, all your own.

Have you woken up each morning of quarantine and wondered when it will all end? How it will? Me too. See? We are not alone, after all.

One more thought to get you through today, the many hours ahead that will be spent behind your own four walls; the hours you will spend cajoling your children to go outside, to take deep, healing breaths in celebration of those who, as of this moment, cannot fully breathe; the hours that you will hold the sick and those who care for them up to the light; the hours ahead of you which will be filled with buzzing news alerts; the hours ahead of you in which you may feel you are sealing your own leaking boat with paper and scotch tape:

Maybe what we were living before was its own sort of quarantine. There would have been no way for us to know it. We couldn’t have seen.

But in the after that will be, months from the isolation that was and the quarantine that is now, we will see the world differently.

After all this, it won’t be hard.

We will reach out and link arms and find ourselves buoyed by a generosity that had been buried so deep within us that we’d forgotten it was ever there in the first place.

We will find ourselves reaching not only for our hair dressers, but also for one another.

We will see all the grays that everyone has been covering and offer a shrug of dismissal. Of course, they’ve always been there–the roots of things, buried deep, that tell the truth.

We will need to be gentle. We will need to apologize, maybe. We will need to listen, and to act, and to do so as though we were called to it, to do so as though this was all meant to be.