My Hamilton Obsession

“I am not throwing away my shot!”

Hamilton portrait
Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull 1806, detail. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I became obsessed with the musical Hamilton when it was released on Disney+ a few months into the pandemic. Given the lockdown and all, I watched it to my heart’s content, surely annoying my husband with my frequent references to it and my need for him to declare it the exception to his steadfast assertion that he dislikes musicals.

The more I watched it, the more some lines came to mind in all manner of situations, from personal decisions and trials to national controversies and events.

Thus, dearest readers (drum roll in the background), before my Hamilton fever entirely subsides, I hereby present to you a few of the lines I collected for our joint pondering pleasure.

“Every action’s an act of creation.”

This line grounds me and gives me a feeling of self-importance. Whaddaya know, every one of my behaviors— from the unconscious and routine to the most complex and premeditated — creates something!

When I breathe, I take in oxygen, let out carbon dioxide and keep my body alive. Kind of important what I create -my life’s sustenance, no less- by merely breathing, no?

Our consumer behaviors contribute to global, local and individual trends. How do you affect the environment, the local economy, and your own future through your actions as a consumer?

Of course, there are also deliberate acts of creation. Teachers create lesson plans. Writers create essays, novels and copy. Chefs create dishes. Weight lifters create muscle mass. Legislators create laws and pass bills where some gain and others lose.

We are all creators.

“If you stand up for nothing Burr, what will you fall for?”

What do I stand for really?

Not to toot my own horn (ok, a little bit to toot my own horn), but I will say I strive to lead a coherent life. In general, I stand for broad themes: life, liberty and the pursuit of virtues, purpose and fulfillment.

But is there actually anything I would fall for, as in dying for?

Honestly, I can’t think of any idea or goal I would die for, as in taking up arms like Hamilton and his fellow revolutionaries did to achieve independence from the British.

However, I would certainly die for my children any day. I desperately hope I would be brave like the Flight 93 passengers if I knew what they knew when they decided to storm the cockpit on 9/11.

“Another immigrant coming up from the bottom.”

As a US citizen who immigrated to the United States 230 years after Hamilton took the voyage from the Caribbean island of Nevis to New York, I can relate. Unlike Hamilton, I didn’t come alone or by boat, but I did come with a dream.

To this day, thousands of people keep arriving on US soil with hopes and dreams, a great deal of energy, and a readiness to make sacrifices and persevere. Most native-born Americans seldom think about immigrants in this way nowadays. They should!

“Raise a glass to freedom, something they can never take away, no matter what they tell you.”

This line always makes me think, immediately, of this quote from Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Hamilton and his pals fought for political freedom, not spiritual or psychological freedom. Ultimately, inner freedom is beyond the reach of any tyrant.

And here, I can’t help but bring up the poem Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, which I just have to include in full, as it expresses the idea of inner freedom and self-possession in a sublimely moving way:

Out of the night that covers me,   
  Black as the Pit from pole to pole,   
I thank whatever gods may be   
  For my unconquerable soul.   

In the fell clutch of circumstance 
  I have not winced nor cried aloud.   
Under the bludgeonings of chance   
  My head is bloody, but unbowed.   

Beyond this place of wrath and tears   
  Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
And yet the menace of the years   
  Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.   

It matters not how strait the gate,   
  How charged with punishments the scroll,   
I am the master of my fate:
  I am the captain of my soul.

“I am not throwing away my shot.”

This, of course, is one of the stickiest lines in the whole show. It’s a great motivational mantra.

One can look it at in many ways. Say you landed a job interview for a great position. You have a shot! Prepare well for it and the job may be yours. Fail to prepare and you’re straight up throwing away your shot.

It doesn’t mean there won’t be other shots for you, whether for a job, relationship, trip, or visit with a loved one. But the more you take a shot when one comes around, the more fully you will live.

At life itself, we only get one shot. That’s a scary thought, don’t you think?

“Oceans rise; empires fall.”

We sure hear what we are predisposed to hearing. Here are the thoughts that come to mind when I hear this line:

Climate change is slowly but surely causing oceans to rise.

All empires have fallen. When will the US empire be considered to have fallen?

I can’t help it. I’m awfully worried about climate change, so every time I hear King George sing “Ocean’s rise,” I’m alarmed: “OMG, oceans are rising. We’re running out of time. Our planet is doomed!”

Whether or not the US is declining as an empire is not something I lose sleep over. To my mind, the US doesn’t need to be the world’s greatest superpower to have a positive influence in the world.

Still, the line causes me to wonder: What type of leadership is the US exercising? Which countries would replace the US?

A lot to think about as a result of pondering four words from a Hamilton song!

“Life [death, love] doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints.”

Do you believe in karma? I don’t. At least not so much. Here are some reasons why:

  • Too many awful people get to be powerful and rich.
  • Good people get sick and die young.
  • Most parents love their children no matter what, whether their kids end up being criminals or model citizens.
  • Many people live with trauma and continue to love people who’ve done terrible things to them.
  • Narcissists may be loved and elevated by many.
  • Amazing people are sometimes unable to find romantic partners.
  • Innocent folks are sentenced to death now and then.

We don’t necessarily deserve what we get. We may have the freedom to take a stand or to decide our attitude toward life’s events, but what we get is, to a significant extent, beyond our control.

In closing…

The only reason Hamilton was released on Disney+ was the emergence of an abhorrent virus known as COVID-19 which decidedly “doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints.”

As such, it reminds us of the fragility of the human condition, of the importance of taking a stand when necessary, of our freedom regardless of circumstance, and of not throwing away our one shot at life.

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Planet Earth: It’s Still Not TOO Late to Save Our Home!

Quotes and ideas by Jane Goodall that will spur you into immediate action

Moose

You could say I’m obsessed with Jane Goodall, the 87-year-old British lady known for her crusade to preserve the natural world, and, in the process, save humanity.

Goodall is one of those rare humans who’ve tirelessly worked for a just cause for many decades, never compromised their ethics, and won people’s hearts in the process.

We all know (or at least most people agree) that human activity has wreaked havoc on our planet’s environment and climate. Yet how much is each one of us doing to combat climate change and environmental degradation? Way, way, WAY, too little.

What’s it going to take for us to start making changes, however small, in how we live?

For me, it took listening to Jane Goodall’s Masterclass, all 29 lessons.

I wish I could gift you and everyone on the planet this MasterClass. Seeing that I can’t, I’ll give you a taste of it through some of the words and ideas that stood out for me.


Realism is not incompatible with hope

“I have enormous fear for the future of this planet.”

“If people don’t make changes, then in 50 years time I’m glad that I won’t be here.”

We must constantly remind ourselves of the urgency of the problem, and it needs to appall us because it is appalling.

Surprisingly, though Goodall doesn’t minimize the extreme gravity of our planet’s situation, her message is one of hope. At 87, she continues to work tirelessly as a conservation activist. She does so because she sees reason for hope, especially when it comes to the enthusiasm she perceives in young people.

Realism is not incompatible with hope. Both are necessary to spur us into immediate action. In Goodall’s view, the fact that the planet’s situation is dire doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up in the air and do nothing.


Human intellect comes at a high price

“Because without any question we are the most intellectual creature that ever walked on planet Earth, how is it possible that we’re destroying our only home?”

Yeah, we humans are ridiculously intelligent in some ways and outrageously stupid in others. Even as we fly a helicopter on Mars (exciting indeed), we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by destroying our very home!

We must not seek happiness, comfort, and immediate gratification all the time, at any cost. Being the most intellectual creature in the world means this pursuit will never satisfy us. Instead, it has lead us to adopt a wasteful lifestyle that ignores the effects of our choices on the world around us.

Our high intellect comes at a price: we must seek purpose in our lives. Deep fulfillment for us humans only comes from pursuing causes greater than ourselves. As Goodall urges:

When it comes to the environment, our purpose must be to help safeguard the only home we all share.

“I believe honestly and truly that it’s only when we learn to operate with head and heart in harmony that we can achieve our true human potential.”

When you operate with your head only, there’s no room for empathy, only for processes and results you think will maximize the bottom line. You don’t even stop to think, is there another way?

“It seems there has been some disconnect between the clever mind and the human heart, love and compassion.”


It’s time to let go of our sense of superiority

“There is not a sharp line dividing us from the other animals… We are part of an amazing animal kingdom, and there’s still so much to learn about it — and about ourselves.”

One of the most striking things about Jane Goodall is her love for and empathy toward all living creatures.

All through her lessons, she tells little stories about various animals: the pet pig who traversed a hedge and alerted people its owner was in trouble; David Graybeard, the chimpanzee that first allowed Jane into his world; the little male sparrow at the Denver airport trying to impress a mate; the elephants that go crazy when bees fly up their trunks.

Her eyes light up with joy and amazement when she tells these stories. She senses our unity with all living things at her core and is able to convey this feeling clearly.

We must abandon the notion that it’s us humans and then everything else.

It’s time to let go of our sense of superiority. We should never lose sight of the fact that we’re members of the animal kingdom. It’s a truth that should inspire us to learn more about its secrets, and, in the process, about ourselves:

“We have been far too arrogant. The animal kingdom of which we are a part is filled with secrets.”


We must compromise and find common ground

“If you don’t talk to people and if you don’t try and find a way to communicate with them at some level, how can you expect there to be change? There will never be change.”

We need to put our differences aside and communicate with the intention of finding common ground. Jane Goodall is an expert at this.

She has studied how chimpanzees communicate with one another for all manner of functions, such as repairing relationships after a fight, alerting others to danger, and conveying pleasure and fear.

We humans possess a hugely complex and magical language, both verbal and written. Let’s put it to better use.

Goodall has worked closely with oil company executives, villagers who clear the forest to grow crops, scientists who did research on chimpanzees living in deprivation, workers in zoos where animals were kept in deplorable conditions. As she says:

“As long as you don’t compromise your own values, as long as you don’t do anything that you know is wrong, a series of compromises is ok.”

Jane Goodall urges us to listen to the needs and concerns of others to find a way into their world and find solutions. We can’t just condemn and be outraged, and only communicate with those who agree with us.


There’s something everyone can do

“We’ve let the planet down. There’s no question about that and we owe it to future generations to work with them to try and heal some of the harm we’ve inflicted.”

I, for one, feel guilty.

Those of us in mid-to-late adulthood, in particular, must take responsibility and think about the state of the planet we’re leaving for future generations.

If you’re a youth coach, think about your team members.

If you’re a teacher, think about your students.

If you’re a catechist or religious leader, think about the children in your congregation.

If you’re a parent, think of your children and their children.

If you’re none of the above, think of yourself as a child.

Promote leaders with environmentally responsible agendas, donate to reputable conservation non-profits, volunteer with local environmental initiatives, expose children to the beauties of the natural world, become better educated about conservation and the environment, make lifestyle changes…

“Every single one of us, whether we want to or not, makes a difference of some sort every single day.”

We tell ourselves all the time: how will what I do make a difference if 7 billion other people don’t change their behavior?

First, this is an easy way out. It’s no more than a bad excuse to do nothing.

Second, it isn’t true that no one else is changing their behavior. A lot of people are. Be part of the group that’s changing, and the group will grow and grow.

Third, even if you don’t want to, you will make a difference. Your choices will determine what type of difference you make.

Jane Goodall’s message is empowering. Every single day we have a new opportunity to do good, to grow our positive impact, to influence others in a beneficial way.

The more privileged and wealthy you are, the more choices you have.

As Goodall affirms:

“We have got a window of time.”

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