Friday, July 10, 2020

July 10: Sweet Sense of Independence, "Hamilton," My Legacy

Young Merton's summer of independence . . .

Bonnemaman was the one who suffered most from my reticence.  For years she had been sitting at home wondering what Pop was doing in the city all day, and now that I was developing the same wandering habits it was quite natural for her to imagine strange things about me, too.

But the only wickedness I was up to was that I roamed around the city smoking cigarettes and hugging my on sweet sense of independence.  

I found out that Grosset and Dunlap published more than the Rover Boys.  They brought out reprints of writers like Hemingway and Aldous Huxley and D. H. Lawrence and I devoured them all, on the cool sleeping porch of the house at Douglaston, while the moths of the summer darkness came batting and throbbing against the screens, attracted by my light that burned until all hours.

Most of the time I was running into my uncle's room to borrow his dictionary, and when he found out what words I was looking up he arched his eyebrows and said:  "What are you reading, anyway?"

Sweet sense of independence.

That's what my daughter will be tasting this weekend.  She, her boyfriend, and another friend are going on a road trip to the Keweenaw Peninsula for a few days.  By themselves.  In my daughter's car.  It's not that I don't trust my daughter's judgement.  She's got a good head on her shoulders.  It's just the letting-go part of this little adventure that I'm having a problem with.

My daughter and I watched Hamilton this evening.  It has been one of my daughter's favorite musical soundtracks since the show premiered on Broadway.  That's four years of listening.  She could literally sing the entire show if she wanted to.  I do love the music, as well.  And I knew the plot of the show.  Nothing was a surprise.  I knew that American defeated Great Britain in the Revolutionary War with the help of Lafayette.  George Washington stepped down as President after two terms.  I knew that Hamilton cheated on his wife, and that his son was killed in a duel.  Hamilton supported Thomas Jefferson in his bed for the Oval Office, and Aaron Burr killed Hamilton in a duel.  Knew all of that going in.

It was the ending of the show that did me in tonight.  The question of who is going to tell your story. what your legacy will be.  When Phillipa Soo was singing Eliza Schuyler-Hamilton's last song, I found myself literally crying.  Not just tearing up.  I wasn't expecting that.  The idea that Eliza spent the rest of her life telling Hamilton's story, putting herself "back in the narrative"--the depth of her devotion and love profoundly affected me.

I'm not sure what kind of legacy I'm going to leave behind, and I doubt that there's going to be an Eliza in my life to tell my story.  Chances are, these blog posts are going to do that job.  Somebody 70 or 80 or 100 years from now may be reading these very words because of my poems.  Or because of something my son or daughter did.  I may be a footnote to their lives.  Or maybe that future person is doing a dissertation on the pandemic of 2020, and I'm eventually going to be cited or quoted as a reference.

Let me clear up something right now:  I'm a mess.  I'm full of insecurities and contradictions.  I'm not always nice or smart.  At the moment, the trajectory of my life seems unclear.  I'm never going to be President of the United States, although Donald Trump has proven that anybody with enough money and connections with Russia can become a resident of the Oval Office.  Perhaps I'll write something of note some day.  Marriage and family--well, that's all in God's hands, as everything is.

Maybe my daughter and son will write a musical about me some day.  It will take Broadway by storm, win all kinds of Tony Awards, and, eventually, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  My kids will speak my narrative.  I hope it will be a good one, something they can be proud of, despite all of my character flaws.

Perhaps, as my daughter is sitting in her hotel tomorrow night, after a day of travel and sight-seeing and fishing, she will take out a notebook and jot down a random line of poetry that will become the opening lyric of that musical:  "How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore / And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot / In the Caribbean by providence impoverished / In squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?"  Or something catchy like that.

Here's the thing:  you don't get to decide your legacy.  My job in this whole process:  living the best life that I am able.  The rest is in the hands of other people, long after I'm gone.

Hopefully, they'll write about the miracle of this night, with my daughter.  How we both sat, crying on the couch, at the end of Hamilton.  How my daughter, filled with her sweet sense of independence, on the cusp of her adventure, looked at me, after rubbing her eyes, and said, "That was really good."

And for that moment in his legacy, his narrative, Saint Marty gives thanks.

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