In some ways, I guess it’s a little ironic that I saw Hamilton at the point in life I did — which was just recently — because I have been thinking a lot about my own legacy. One of the themes that runs throughout Hamilton is legacy. Alexander Hamilton shows us early on in the musical that he is concerned with his own legacy, even if he doesn’t say so in those exact words. He proclaims, “I am not throwing away my shot” when faced with opportunity to help the revolution. When he meets Angelica Schuyler and she inquires about his family, he declares that “unimportant” but goes on to say, “There’s a million things I haven’t done; just you wait.” He writes prolifically — it’s undeniable that he uses writing to help cement his legacy, which is part of what makes Eliza’s burning his letters in “Burn” so profound. She knows exactly what she’s doing to his legacy — she says, “You and your words, obsessed with your legacy, your sentences border on senseless, and you are paranoid in every paragraph how they perceive you…. I’m burning the memories, burning the letters that might have redeemed you.” Ultimately, we find that in the end, we are not really in control of our legacy, no matter how we try. This is made clear in the final song. Washington starts it off by telling us, “You have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” Eliza ends the song and the show with the haunting thought, “And when my time is up, have I done enough? Will they tell my story?”
At least so it goes in the musical version of Alexander Hamilton’s life.
I wonder what my own legacy will be. When I express this to people, quite often I get the response of, “You’re a teacher. Your students are your legacy.” I get the references to Mr. Holland’s Opus. I get reminded about Dead Poet’s Society.
But I am not arrogant enough to fancy myself to be as influential as Alexander Hamilton, or even the fictional Mr. Holland or Mr. Keating. I’m just Renee.
All I want to do is know that when I’m dead and gone, my life mattered. My work mattered. I did something positive, something lasting, that what I left behind was a force for good in this world, that somehow the world changed even the slightest for the good because I was once here. I want to be remembered, even just for a little bit. I want a part of me to remain after I’m gone, just for a little while, just to show that my life was worth remembering. This is why I feel it so much when Hamilton says, “There’s a million things I haven’t done, just you wait.” I feel like there’s got to be a million things I haven’t done yet, either. I have no idea what they are, but just you wait. This is why I feel it so much when Eliza asks the questions I didn’t even know I was asking myself, “When my time is up, have I done enough? Will they tell my story?”
Maybe that’s why I write — few people know how much I actually write. I have this blog plus two others. I have diaries and journals and notes and poems and ideas and thoughts scribbled in notebooks and in journals and on scraps of paper. Maybe I believe that someone will find these papers when I’m gone and keep them, thus ensuring my legacy, keeping me alive beyond my life.
Maybe it is incredibly conceited of me to want a legacy. Maybe it means I’m insecure. Maybe it means I’m childish or selfish. But I sure do hope that when my time is up, I’ve done enough, and someone will think it’s worth it to tell my story.
Until then, just you wait.