“Building a legacy is an illusion, and is really a selfish endeavor. Happiness through acquisition is an illusion. You don’t ‘own’ anything.”Rick Georges
Lin-Manuel Miranda himself would agree: Alexander Hamilton was a freak of nature, “Accomplishing what would take a normal person three lifetimes“. Modern day scholars and clinicians offer conflicting descriptions… Intensely gifted? Bipolar? Superhuman? Hypomanic?
He fought ferociously, literally and metaphorically, to bring his ideas to life through writing, speaking, and the formation of the United States government.
Lin-Manuel discovered Hamilton while reading a book on vacation. He immediately identified with this man’s tenacity – a highly unusual drive to squeeze the life out of life before death. Lin-Manuel, similarly, lived as a young immigrant in New York City, surrounded by art and genius in every direction – grasping at a young age he would have to work extremely hard to “make it”.
Fast forward, after reading the book, 7 years of writing and planning, Lin-Manual takes the stage on Broadway, portraying Hamilton as an inspirational figure – “forcing us to reckon with how much time we have“.
Watching the actual musical is wild. Hundreds of thousands of meticulous details executed flawlessly… the rap lyrics, the costumes, the stage, the choreography, the light-hearted jabs, the diverse cast, the music, the tragedy, the raw theatrical talent. It exceeds all expectations in terms of blowing away the human senses. Seriously admirable.
But when you peel all the sensation away, and look carefully at the mega-theme of “legacy”, one has to ask, what is there to learn?
The Mirage of Legacy
“These minds of ours – these outrageously powerful tools that creation has given us – I’m not sure we know how to use them wisely. They are all over the place… reaching for meaning, narratives, making stuff up, tearing things down – it’s a wild place. When the abstraction death becomes obvious – when our body shuts down – that can be very painful, but then, very peaceful. Eventually you come to acceptance – and there is a really sweet valley on the other side of that mountain.”BJ Miller
We’re all going to die. When that happens, we have no idea what’s next. We know our bodies turn to dust, and consciousness either shuts off, or changes. The physical brain is CLEARLY highly involved with conscious experience. The fantastic question, then, can consciousness exist without a brain? Good luck.
Either way… when we’re dead, what good is legacy?
The finitude of life is really fucking terrifying in a world with billions of conceivable experiences and unlimited dreams. This creates a particularly nasty case of existential FOMO – no matter what path you take, you’re going to miss something.
How the hell can we deal with this? Well, one strategy, embodied by our protagonist, is to carpe the ever-living shit out of the diem. Alas… we quickly run straight into another one of philosophy’s dead ends. Satisfaction, simply, is not real.
[Enter: risk of denial. I get it. come back later…]
“Reckoning” with Hamilton
Art is beautiful because it rips us out of our tiny little universe and transports us to some other reality. Hamilton succeeds fantastically at provoking this massive insight: Life is short. Yes – indeed.
While it might seem reflexive then, to mimic Alexander Hamilton, a person who was wildly motivated to experience and accomplish and admits: “I’m never satisfied“, there is another, less obvious choice on the menu.
Thousands of humans have been saying for thousands of years… life is all good. Right NOW. The idea that ultimate experience lives off in the future somewhere is patently absurd. Notice the fullness of this present moment, and you might never again yearn so anxiously for the future and an illusory legacy. Or at least when you are tempted to, you can smile, and realize peak life is always.
How about this for a legacy? Be a good person.
“Legacy. What is a Legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”Lin-Manual, as Hamilton
Hamilton shows how the story of the United States can be shared across all races and diversities – wonderful. It also reminds us that the United States was created by immigrants, and we must continue celebrating this essential history – being a beacon of liberty for the human population. Again, wonderful.
One of art’s essential tasks is to move us. Frankly, I know very personally the downside of Hamilton’s mania, and I am thrilled, seriously, thrilled, to no longer live that way any more.
Regardless of how Hamilton moves you, and how it resonates with Lin Manuel specifically, it moves nonetheless. In that sense, bravo.