“Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?”Hamilton The Musical
It’s funny how, at a time like this, with the word “death” floating in the air like the invisible particulates we are rearranging life for, it can make you wonder what would be spoken of you if you were gone? It’s a sobering speculation, and I can only hope I would leave a legacy of love behind.
You see, in the time of Corona, the title of my series these last 140-ish days, I have striven to project love and hope in my writings, to give light through the darkness of fear, hate, uncertainty, and loss. That is only a few months, though.
I’ve been on Earth for 14,085 days. 338,037 hours. 20,282,273 minutes.
The question is, if you put my total years under a microscope, what would you see?
How would one measure my life?
When I say those words, they immediately remind me of musicals with songs of similar mindset and message—leave a legacy of love and find value in all parts of life.
In The Prince of Egypt, one of my favorite animated musicals that was in the works to becoming a stage production, Moses has run away from the palace because of a crime he accidentally committed, and found himself among a nomadic sheep herding tribe called the Midians. Their leader, Jethro, the high priest and future FIL, sings “Through Heaven’s Eyes” to this broken young man, reminding him that he is part of a larger tapestry, and that the worth of his life is not measured in wealth, but in his deeds. They dance together and celebrate, though there are little provisions and their life is an itinerate one—a far cry from the splendor of Egypt, but a life that Moses finds himself in. He grows from a shepherd of sheep to shepherd of Hebrews, and his decisions impact future generations.
I just finished Hamilton, and it is Eliza Schuyler Hamilton who lives to tell her husband’s story, making sure he is remembered as a key Founding Father. We watch from two enraptured hours of a life that is a struggle for acceptance and with finding and keeping love, which ultimately finds him shortchanged by the fateful shot Burr dealt him. Eliza sings about how he impacted the birth of democracy, of his ability to fight for freedom and justice—she says these are why we need to hear his story. She realizes, with a gasp, that her mission has been completed, because we, the audience, have watched history unfold before us, and her job is finished. His name will live on.
In Once On This Island, the story ends with Ti Moune reincarnated into a tree that lovers can find happiness under, even though she and her lover could not find that fate. The four gods, the townspeople, and the peasants sing “Why We Tell The Story.” The lyrics remind us of the value of continuing the narrative and also encourage us to let go of anger or sorrow, and forgive. The little school girl at the end is telling Ti Moune’s legend to a new generation.
“Our lives become the stories that we weave.”—Once On This Island
Here is the legacy I hope to leave behind— for my husband, children, parents, friends, and students.
To my husband, I hope you know that my love for you struck me like a bolt of lightning, and I’m glad it was me who spoke it first. I find home in your heart. Since that day twenty years ago, when we met, you have given me so many things, but most important is the confidence that I could be myself with you and that my dreams were possible. We have adventures, struggles, losses, and successes, but with the humor we still maintain and a heavy dose of hope, I could not imagine anyone but you to face life with.
“I carry your heart with me. I carry it in my heart. I am never without it. Anywhere you go, I go, my dear.”-E.E. Cummings—
To my children and family, I hope you know that my heart can hold more love for you than all the droplets of water any ocean can possess. I wrote poems in my head about the ways you have made my life blessed. I can’t tell you or show you enough, even though I try. My love language to you is acts of service and words of affirmation, combined. Say what you mean and act upon it. I have tried to do as much for you.
To my friends and students, hope you know I’d fight tigers for you, forever championing you, supporting you, and watching in the wings as you walk or run towards the future you seek. I’m not sure what that means these days, as I can’t seem to see past the end of my nose, but I do see you triumphing in it, and that fortifies me for what lies ahead.
To you all…
I hope you know how many obstacles I’ve overcome, how many battles I’ve fought, how many times I’ve said no when everyone else said yes, because I believed in my convictions. Sometimes I was standing alone with them, but they fashioned me into the person I am, every crack painted with gold like the Japanese do when their pottery breaks. It is made stronger with its flaws.
I hope you know that I have tried to turn my fears into challenges, my ideas into reality, my words into writing that matters. I have longed to be a writer since I was a child, and though everything is in half-starts and unfinished (except some poems from decades ago), I do try. I keep trying. That is all we can do.
I hope you know that, underneath my idiosyncrasies and odd sense of humor is just a girl who wants to make the world smile, and would give my last breath to see it happen. No tears, just joy.
I hope you know that, no matter how I have railed about the immensity of responsibility that is involved in my “calling,” there is also a mountain of joy when I see my students come out of their chrysalis and into themselves, with a voice and a mind unafraid of the world.
I can never replace the feeling of motherly pride I have felt over the years of reading essays, poems, stories you write; watching little epiphanies, hearing bold words spoken from otherwise meek mouths, witnessing metamorphoses in the desks and on the stage. They remind me of why I started and that I’ll feel empty if I stop.
I hope you know that I grew up afraid that I would never have enough, be enough, see enough, or do enough. That’s what makes me such a flurry of movement, trying to suck the marrow out of life before there is none left to be had. What I have come to realize is that this life is more than enough.
It is everything, all of it.
If this set of months apart from the norm has taught me anything, it’s that I fear the loss of love more than the loss of life. I plan to do my best—better than that, even—-to fill my days, hours, and minutes with love.
If there ever comes a time when you go searching for my words when my mouth or pen has stopped producing them, remember this:
I am far from perfect, flawed in many ways, but my greatest strength is that I measure my life in love.
For you, for us, for my family, friends, students. For the world. Every messy bit of it.
Don’t forget to tell my story.
-Mother, Wife, Daughter, Sister, Grandchild, Cousin, Niece, Aunt, Friend, Teacher-