There is a thread in the hit Broadway musical Hamilton that goes like this:
Who lives, who dies
who tells your story?
It starts with George Washington counselling Hamilton, desperate for a command, to lead troops (Act I):
WASHINGTON: Let me tell you what I wish I’d known
When I was young and dreamed of glory.
You have no control.
WASHINGTON, COMPANY: Who lives who dies, who tells your story.
WASHINGTON: I know that we can win.
I know that greatness lies in you.
But remember from here on in,
WASHINGTON, HAMILTON, MEN: History has its
Eyes on you.
The show is fuelled by the two forms of ambition embodied by Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Hamilton: “I am not throwing away my shot.” Burr: “I’m willing to wait for it.” Hamilton’s ambition is blind and driven, while Burr’s ambition is patient, yet teething with impatience.
The show ends with a duel and Hamilton’s death at the hands of Burr. Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, is left with the gift of time to live into these questions:
COMPANY: Will they tell your story?
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
Will they tell your story?
Who lives, who dies–
FULL COMPANY: Who tells your story?
The tension in me is embodied in these questions:
- Who tells my story? Me or someone else?
- Who tells others’ story? Me or someone else?
Of course, I can see the point of telling someone else’s story; I see it in the form of a good biography, where I, as the reader, learn about a whole other life. I see it as I watch and listen to Hamilton. I get a lot out of hearing someone tell another’s story. I learn about myself in learning about others’ stories.
Yet there is a deeper layer to this question: when it comes to me, who gets to tell that story? Most of us don’t have others write about us, either during our lifetimes or afterwards. Most of us are regular people going about our lives without fanfare. We are not celebrities with reporters and journalists and bloggers telling us and the world who we are, are not, who we should be. Yet we, the non-celebrities, can fall into the trap of living others’ stories, can’t we?
We have no control over who lives, who dies. We have no control over what others say about our stories, but we do have control over the stories we tell ourselves and the stories of ourselves that we live and live into.
Thanks to Hamilton for telling an old story in a whole new way.
What is the story you choose for yourself?
What is the story your city chooses for itself?
This is the fifth post in a series inspired by the Broadway hit Hamilton. Here are the previous posts: