Beyond Sadness

Your prompt for this week:

“In ‘The Critic as Artist,’ Oscar Wilde writes, ‘After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own.’

Think of a sad song you love—one you go to wallow in, one that brings tears to your eyes. Listen to it, then write about whatever comes up. ” (from The Isolation Journals published by Suleika Jaouad. Thanks to her guest Carmen Radley.)

Found on Spotify

Confession: I am writing this on Sunday, not Tuesday. And I’m glad because this prompt, like so many from the weekly Isolation Journal’s gifts to desperate writers, triggers a powerful flood. And I’m ready to write when I read it—magic when that happens.

My song has to be “It’s Quiet Uptown” from the musical Hamilton. From the opening piano notes, staccato and singular, soon joined by the chords followed by a subdued yet clarion female voice, the chills rise and the tears prickle—even now, years after I first heard this song.

It is this phrase that unleashes any reserve, “They are trying to do the unimaginable.” And that “unimaginable”is the death of Alexander and Eliza’s eldest son Phillip in a duel. A duel Phillip undertakes for his honor, the honor of the family.

Have you read Dalton Trumble’s scathing indictment of war, Johnny Got His Gun? “…did anybody ever come back from the dead any single one of the millions who got killed did any one of them ever come back and say by god i’m glad i’m dead because death is always better than dishonor?” Not to minimize or misrepresent Trumbo, but this sentence captures one dimension of my visceral reaction to “It’s Quiet Uptown.”

I can only listen through a parent’s ear, a mother’s heart—and it leaves me weak. Once I decided to have a baby, I enrolled in a lifelong club of captive caring. When I listen to Lin Manuel-Miranda’s plaintive melody and lyrics, I find my bona fides exposed to the world. Hubris and hope mix in parenthood, but hope triumphs and a child emerges. “It’s Quiet Uptown” articulates my greatest fear, my personal echo, my very own unimaginable.

When I am encouraged to write “…whatever comes up,” this arises, haunts, and thankfully when the song ends, moves to my mind’s recesses eclipsed by the immediate real joy I find in motherhood.

4 thoughts on “Beyond Sadness”

  1. I hadn’t listened to this song in years (probably since the day I bought the “Hamilton” soundtrack). I just replayed it on my iPhone — after I read your post, but before leaving a comment. I listened to the song with new ears, trying to put myself in the place of Eliza and Alexander. And, oh, did that hurt my heart.

    My children are so precious to me. I tell them that all of the time. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them. I cannot imagine my life without them.

  2. This has got to be one of the saddest songs in musical theatre. I had read somewhere that Lin Manuel Miranda showed this song to someone connected to Hamilton, don’t remember if it was one of the actors or someone connected with the show, who had just lost a son to suicide. Miranda asked him if it would be too painful for him to include it in the show. When Miranda played it for the cast the first time there wasn’t a dry eye in the company.

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