An Open Thank You Note to Lin-Manuel Miranda

Cast members perform musical selections from the Broadway musical "Hamilton" in the East Room of the White House, March 14, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Cast members perform musical selections from the Broadway musical “Hamilton” in the East Room of the White House, March 14, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)/Courtesy of Wikipedia Photo Commons

Dear Mr. Miranda,

Let me start by explaining something about my childhood. I was unusually old for a kid when it really sunk in that life wasn’t fair. The Welman daughters were always scorekeepers. “Debbie had the front seat last time,” I’d whine. Debbie pitched a fit when I was allowed to get a Game Boy when I was 10 or 11 and she had to wait until she was 13 before she was allowed to play video games. “It’s not fair,” she complained to our mom. Perhaps our parents simply wanted to do their best to manage two girls, four years apart in age, who simply could not get along, so they let us keep score. They let us believe that fairness prevailed and everyone deserves a turn.

Now, as an adult, when I drift into bouts of sadness, I often realize the heart of why I am upset is because I feel life is being unfair. The looming notion that, no matter what I do, incredibly horrible crap could keep happening was too much to take in my younger years. An alternative which made much more sense is that I deserved what happened to me in my own life. So now I am a walking cliche, that scene in Good Will Hunting where I have to be told it’s not my fault.

And here I am 32, and my life looks a lot more like it did when I was 23 than when I was 30. At 30 I had a great corporate job, I was on top of my game, my personal relationships were great, and I let out a sigh of relief. It took me a little longer than some people, but my life had gotten to where it was supposed to be in my head. I was on the path to what I wanted.

My mom dying isn’t the only reason why now I am a freelance writer on the hunt for work, unsure where I will live and what I will do after my six-week gig at the World Series of Poker ends. I put a lot of things on hold to be with Mom near the end, which meant I was kinda homeless and underemployed a while. But before that, with my old job and its frequent travel, I still hadn’t quite found a way to “have m own little family.” Plus, now I have to fill the giant void previously filled by the woman who raised me, who I talked to every day, who was the best friend I could ever ask for. Every day I have to remind myself, “You don’t have parents. You have to fend for yourself.”

In other words, I have a lot of shit to figure out.

When I finally stopped traveling and helping my sister and her kids and moved my stuff out of storage into a new place, I was confronted with all of these things at once, and, for a day or two, I curled in a ball in my barely unpacked apartment completely at a loss of what comes next. A job I was desperate to get didn’t pan out, I saw the web content market shrinking, and while I was delighted to roll on the floor with all my friends’ adorable babies and hang out with their wonderful families, a piece of me kept drifting to that place where I asked myself why I felt so far behind them, wondering what decisions I could have made or things I could’ve done differently to have what they have. I tried to figure out what I had done, since the blame had to reside with me.

My mother had infinite patience. Perhaps my greatest flaw is my patience comes in short supply. I felt stuck, and not being able to claw out of this hole ASAP wore on me to the point where I wasn’t sure how I would survive the summer, let alone the rest of my life.

You’ve probably stopped reading or are really wondering what the heck any of this has to do with you, but this is the part where you enter stage left.

It was then I finally picked up the Hamilton soundtrack. I don’t know why I waited so long to listen to it. Perhaps I heard too much about how great it was, so the closeted hipster in me didn’t want to just hop on your bandwagon like a sheep. But given I love musicals and US History, it serves as no surprise I am more obsessed with this cast album than I was with New Kids on the Block as a kid (Don’t worry, Jordan, I’ll always love you). I’m sorry I waited so long.

On first listen, I was immediately drawn to the titular character. He was a writer, impatient, brash, opinionated, and an orphan, all things you can use to describe me. I identified with him instantaneously, much like you did when you wrote this masterpiece.

I ignored Burr because, as the show observes and my history classes reiterated, he was a snake, the enemy, the bad guy. There is a song in the middle of the show though where you understand why Burr hedged his bets and kept his opinions and stances to himself. He was an orphan too. He had to learn to survive and instead of bulldozing his way to what he needed like Hamilton, he kept a poker face like my mom did. Mom never let on the depths of her grief after losing her husband or learning she was terminally ill. Silence was her coping mechanism.

While my temperament is pure Hamilton, my emotions are all Burr, especially when he sings Wait for It. On about the third listen of this song, which I kind of glossed through at first, I felt my eyes start to well up as Burr discussed his long-gone father and mother, observing, “Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints. It takes and it takes and it takes.”

My parents were better people than I can ever dream of being, yet they’re both gone at the hands of cancer. It isn’t fair, it won’t ever be. I could have stayed in my little ball on the couch, but Burr (you) called me to action, reminding me, “I am the one thing in life I can control.” Dwelling on the past or trying to rationalize the unfairness life heaves upon us all wasn’t going to fix anything. And yes, I can’t quickly remedy my situation or plow through my grieving to get to the light at the tunnel. For, “if there is a reason I’m still alive when everyone who loves me has died, I’m willing to wait for it.”

Now, each morning I listen to Wait for It. It is my anthem, my reminder I have a legacy of two wonderful people to protect and, while I haven’t reached the heights of my life I want just yet, there is still a reason I’m here. Every time I feel stuck, I cue it up to enforce in my head I’m not standing still, I am just waiting for the right opportunity instead of the first one. And it would be wrong of me to not point out Leslie Odom Jr.’s incredible performance, particularly where he sounds on the very precipice of tears as he wonders how Hamilton seems to get the things Burr wants in life, which makes this song all the more powerful.

So, as a good Southern girl, I had to pen you this letter because my mother always taught me to write a thank you note when someone does something nice for me. You did more than that. You gave me the will to keep going. Your music reminds me it is okay, my life is going to be okay. Your music helps to fill that void  that is still so fresh in my life, even three months later. You give me the advice my mother would’ve given: Wait for It.

Thank you.

Most Gratefully,
Jessica Welman

P.S. – If you’re not Lin-Manuel Miranda and reading this, I am guessing these song posts on YT aren’t in compliance with copyright law. If you do listen and like them, please purchase the song or album, don’t rely on YT. Miranda and everyone involved in the production deserved to be compensated for this incredible contribution to American culture.