Who Tells Your Story

I got to see Hamilton with my family yesterday. To be completely honest, I saw Hamilton in Chicago in early June, but this was the first time for the rest of my family. It is an amazing show. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s writing is masterful and the musical ranges from funny and almost irreverent to solemn and thought provoking. As is often the case, I got more out of the story this second time around. The entire production is so overwhelming that it is easy to lose focus. This time I was able to be drawn farther into the narrative. I related more to the emotions of the characters and was affected more deeply by the story.

At the end of the play, Hamilton has died from a gunshot wound received in a dual with Aaron Burr. The closing song of the play is “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” During this number the cast, led by Hamilton’s wife Eliza, talks about his legacy and asks:

“When you’re gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame? Who tells your story?”

That’s an interesting question.

Earlier that morning at church the message was about passing on a vision or a legacy. In the story of Elijah and Elisha we see a leader who is nearing the end of his time in leadership. He selects someone to replace him, and then in an action that becomes very symbolic, he throws his cloak on him. Then Elijah spends time showing Elisha how to lead and transmitting the “cloak” of leadership to him. As his final act he leaves his actual cloak for Elisha as a symbol of the transfer of leadership.

What am I transmitting to those that are coming after me? Am I communicating doubt and a lack of trust, or am I speaking into their lives a voice of hope and encouragement? Am I expecting others to carry on my plans and my dreams, or am I transmitting my beliefs and principles and trusting those who follow to create their own way? Am I gathering power and glory to myself, or am I pushing the next generation onto the stage and into the light?

We often think of legacy as something limited to the powerful and the rich. We imagine foundations and buildings with someone’s name on the side. We mistakenly think that if we don’t leave materially tangible items behind, we will soon be forgotten. This is not even close to the truth of legacy.

My first grade teacher was a catholic nun named Sister Mary Braun. She could be stern when we weren’t paying attention or doing our best work, but she was loving and encouraging, and I credit her with both my ability and love of reading. By the end of first grade I was reading at a third-grade level. She left me a legacy that has impacted almost everything I have done since.

Sister Mary was a server. When she retired from teaching, she moved into a home for retired nuns and began ministering to the older nuns there. I know all this because as long as she was alive, she sent me a hand written note in a card for Christmas. I know that she prayed for me her whole life. I think about all the students she taught, all the lives she touched, all the prayers she offered up, all the other nuns she comforted and served. She left a legacy. She made an immeasurable difference in the world one student, one nun, one life at a time.

Sister Mary was poor in earthly goods, but she was rich in the things that matter, in true legacy.

Legacy is not about leaving “things” behind, it is about speaking hope and vision into the next generation. Legacy is not about control; it is about trust and surrendering to the reality that we cannot control the world from the grave. Legacy is not exclusive; it is universal, and everyone has one.

Who will tell your story? What will it be about? What will you be remembered for?

In Hamilton, a recurring theme is the lack of time we all have. Hamilton runs out of time before he accomplishes everything he dreams. The only regret my grandfather, and Kimray’s founder, had on his death bed was not having seen the completion of all his ideas and dreams. I have known since I was a child that I would never be able to accomplish everything I have thought about doing.

We will all run out of time. We will not live forever, nor will the buildings and systems and organizations we create. Things pass away, but ideals and hope can live forever. I want my legacy to be the belief that all people are equally valuable and if we care about and care for each other we can accomplish anything. I don’t know what the next generation will do with the “things” that I leave behind, and I don’t care. I don’t want a building named after me or my plans to live longer than me. I hope when they tell my story it will be about the experiences we shared and the way we did life together. That’s how I will make a difference. That’s the Kimray Way.