This week, I celebrated a birthday. And that day, the best friend picked me up for a surprise excursion. We drove until we reached a town called ANGELICA. And he said something like, "Get it?" and I sort of did. Our favorite character from HAMILTON: AN AMERICAN MUSICAL (you might recall my obsession with this founding father, but if not, feel free to read about it HERE) is Angelica Schuyler. So I smiled, while eyeing up the plethora of antique stores on Main St. (I'd wanted to go antiquing for my birthday), thinking he was being funny.
But this town was actually named for Angelica Schuyler Church by her son, Phillip Church. Yes my jaw might've dropped, and I might've felt some emotions right then and there. We lunched and shopped and I even found a new teacup to add to the collection. And then it was time to get back for my birthday dinner.
On our way from town, we searched tirelessly for Villa Belvidere, the Church family home. After ignoring Siri and just driving, we came upon an ancient stone fence, two brick pillars adorned with lights, a sign claiming a historic landmark, and a house in the distance. We found the home where the real Angelica once lived, and we sang "Angelicaaaaaah (work)," before pausing for silence, taking in the sight of the magnificent structure and surrounding landscape.
Unfortunately this is not opened to the public, but we did find an inhabitant to ask about such details. And we chatted about the D.A.R, group tours, and General Schuyler. And then this man said something that took both myself and the best friend by surprise. For context, we'd just admitted our obsession with the musical, HAMILTON, and our discovery of the connection between this show and this house, so close to home. This man said something like, "Well, you know they have a black woman playing General Schuyler's daughter?" He actually scoffed over the word black. And I wasn't sure what to say. Thankfully the best friend said something and the man waved us off, and I tried to enjoy the rest of my birthday like the day and the world were perfect.
But that wasn't true.
Philandro Castile was shot and killed by police on July 6th. The day before, Alton Sterling lost his life to the same fate.
And now it is no more than a few days later and more people are dead. My heart hurts for what is happening in our world.
Yesterday, I sang along to Act II of HAMILTON with the best friend, and mentioned that I thought the founding fathers, specifically Alexander Hamilton, might be disappointed in our world, in our America. I know I am most days as of late.
I am not the type of person that posts about politics on Facebook, nor the type to call out names and events in a non-fiction way. And maybe this sounds crazy, but George Washington urges Hamilton in Act II during the song ONE LAST TIME, to "pick up a pen start writing," and I took this as my cue. As writers, is it not our duty to discuss the things which call out to us?
I have long said I am more interested in the politics of wizards than muggles, whilst wearing my Granger // Lovegood 2016 shirt. But maybe, it's that I am consumed with what words can do to bear witness to terrible things. In the world of Harry Potter, there are echoes of the Holocaust, of genocide; real darkness and death. And through the artistry of fiction, J.K. Rowling shows there is real evil in the world. I remember the day Bin Laden was killed, writing for an assignment about the connections between him and Voldemort. It so happens that the day Bin Laden was killed is also the anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts--May 2nd--and so I felt compelled to write such things.
Now in a week filled with violence and death and rage and the struggle to pick sides when maybe we don't have to think this way (Trevor Noah discusses this in a profound way) I'm here, writing. I can't help but relate, and find comfort in the artistry of HAMILTON. This musical is cast with all of the beautiful diversity of America today, the power and passion and pure talent of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr. and Phillipa Soo, Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and Renee Elise Goldsberry (our beloved Angelica Schuyler). This cast is amazing, and Alexander Hamilton is inspiring, Lin-Manuel Miranda an inspiration as well.
And so I am writing about a diverse musical that embraces what America has come to be, or at least should be. But alas, some black lives do not seem to matter, and some police officers are murderers, while others who rallied in peace were gunned down by a black man who fought for our country in war, but erupted the Dallas streets in another kind of war. And there seems to be no end and no way for us to be great again until we can talk about what plagues us.
My favorite section in ONE LAST TIME is after George Washington says he's stepping down as President, to teach America to move on, say goodbye. And Christopher Jackson sings "If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on. It outlives me when I’m gone. Like the scripture says: 'Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.' They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made." This part always wrenches a bit because many Americans are not safe, and many are afraid.
I realize I am privileged to live where I do, to have studied something with passion, to speak with conviction, to write what I must. I don't fear being pulled over for a simple traffic violation, but I fear for my black friends, and I fear, more than anything, that our country is bound to erupt in more violence, diminishing freedoms; a landscape from some of the most terrifying dystopian novels I've read.
So it might be crazy to think a musical can save the world. But I don't think it's absurd to believe art can aid us in trying to make this world better. Maybe we can listen to the wisdom of founding fathers, reveal their vision in raps and ballads, which come from diverse voices. Maybe grainy cell phone visions of deaths will diminish because maybe those deaths will diminish. As I write this I hope for a "one last time" to the atrocities. I hope that maybe, someday, we'll turn on the news not to a shooting or bombing or more death, but to wisdom and faith and maybe, a better world.