The Quiet Beauty of Eliza Hamilton

Like many nerds out there, I’ve fallen in love with Hamilton over the past year or so. Generally speaking, I self-identify with Angelica Schuyler Church, and I love the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda allows this strong woman to be, well, strong. The play’s Angelica speaks her mind-as she did historically, and is not intimidated by much of anything. I find myself connecting to her wit, to her desire to the make the world a better place, and to her attraction to intelligent conversation and companionship.

But while Angelica is the most vocal strong woman in the musical, she is not by any stretch of the imagination the only strong woman. Her younger sister, Elizabeth “Eliza” Schuyler Hamilton, is equally strong, but she shows that in a different way than her sister does. Eliza shows her strength more through her actions than words. However, there is great beauty in Eliza both as a character in the play and as a historical figure.

I’ve been struck recently by the way in which Miranda has Angelica describe her sister. “You will never find anyone as trusting or as kind.” That’s a pretty impressive description. She is a remarkably kind person, and that’s undoubtedly something that both Angelica and Alexander see in her. Eliza’s kindness is one of her strengths-as a wife, a sister, and a mother. Her kindness motivates her behavior during the action of the play and the way in which she perpetuates her husband’s legacy in the fifty years between his passing and hers.

Angelica is an immensely passionate woman, and her passion motivates her to action. She is interested in the Revolution. She reads things that were not acceptable for women to read at the time. She wants to include women in the liberty that the Revolution will procure. She speaks her mind freely. She is a unique and wonderful woman.

But her sister is equally wonderful. Eliza and Alexander move to marriage quickly, and she works to be a good wife to the man with whom she has fallen hopelessly in love. It is clearly not easy to be a newlywed in the midst of a war, but Eliza tries. She continually reminds her husband that she (and later their children) exists, and his family needs him. In many ways, Eliza’s quiet persistence is what Alexander needs. He is a strong willed man who can have tunnel vision, but his wife doesn’t just let him go off and forget about his family when the Afterbirth of a Nation consumes him.

That quiet persistence remains one of Eliza’s leading features throughout her marriage. She doesn’t have down and out fights with Alexander; she knows that she’d have no success there. Instead, she keeps her counsel and waits patiently for her husband to remember his duties. This isn’t to say that she never gets mad at him. She is furious with him when he cheats on her, and he deserves the wrath she issues. They may not have terminated their marriage, but at least from what we see in the play, it is no longer a real marriage but rather just a social facade to appease society.

Some might say that it is their shared grief after the death of their first born child, Philip Schuyler Hamilton, that saved their marriage. It decidedly contributed. But another contributing factor is Eliza’s patience with Alexander’s attempts to win her heart back.  She lets him woo her. She allows him to come back into her heart and her bed. Eliza is almost perpetually with her husband.

Eliza did have to take action ultimately. After her husband’s death, she had to be the head of their household. She had to make active choices rather than reacting to her husband and only making decisions that internally impact the household. She acts well when she has to, but this is not what she would have chosen as a  younger woman.

Eliza Hamilton serves as a reminder that while there is a need for strong, outspoken women like her sister, there is also a need for women who take action in quieter, less obvious ways. Our world desperately needs the outspoken (I hate that word; it’s so negative.) activists like Angelica, but we also need the women who work quietly behind the scenes like Eliza. Quiet action has its value and place, and it should not be mistaken for subservience. Some women are meant to be activists in public or obvious ways while others are not. For example, I do not like being the public face of anything, but that does not mean that I’m sitting back and letting the world pass me by. I prefer to act behind the scenes, in less obvious ways. Eliza reminds me that this is okay.

I think that we need both Angelicas and Elizas in our world. We also need to make sure that both of these kinds of women are supported and encouraged. We cannot tear one group of women down in order to build up the other. To me, one of the greatest strengths of Hamilton is that it puts these two types of women front and center in such a way as to allow us to see the complementary nature of their strengths rather than seeing them as opponents. We need to see this more often; we need to encourage women to work together in such a way as to support their strengths. If it worked for Angelica and Eliza, it can work for us.

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The Most Disagreeable Month of the Year

At the beginning of Chapter 15 of Little Women, Meg March declares November to be the most disagreeable month of the year. Jo returns some comment about that being why she was born in November.

But as I get older, I begin to think that Meg and Jo are wrong about November. November gets a bad rap-probably because of the weather. But if you try hard enough, November doesn’t have to suck. You might have to work on it a little, but you can totally find ways to alleviate the bleakness of November.

Personally, I try to make a concentrated effort to make February and November (my two least favorite months of the year) suck a little less. That means that I try to do things that make my life a little more exciting and distract me from the bleak state of the natural world. When the natural world has a tendency to make me sad or just feeling blech, I’m trying to actively seek out things that give me joy.

One small thing that I’m doing is knitting with brighter shades of yarn. It’s hard to feel gloomy when there are bright blues and greens in your hands. It might be dreary outside, but surrounding myself with bright colors inside helps me to feel more cheerful. I do have a piece of “obligation knitting” that’s in a less cheerful color, but I try to work on that while watching movies or reading things that make me happy.

I’m also seeking out activities that make me happy. Knowing that I have a concert and my cousin’s fall play this weekend and a beatification Mass for a local Saint the following weekend is helping me feel like November is flying by. Sure it’s only the eighth, but I’ve got plans! There are exciting doings ahead of me. I’m not going to let November get me down; I’m going to enjoy it.

Two important people in my life have November birthdays, and that’s another source of excitement. (It’s also a source of stress. What am I going to give these people for their birthdays?) I get to celebrate people that I love. That’s something that I enjoy.

And then there’s Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. It’s a great holiday. I love the food and the family time. I love the emphasis on gratitude. I enjoy getting to talk about gratitude with my students. I love getting to be with my family. It’s a good day.

In short, Meg March is wrong. November, when properly considered, is not the most disagreeable month of the year. It’s a great month; you just have to look at it through the right lenses.

Praying for Unfulfilled Desires

About a year or so ago, a friend of mine recommended that I begin praying once a week for women struggling with unfulfilled desires. I took the challenge thinking primarily about women who aren’t married but want to be and women who are struggling with infertility. This intention has challenged me and has shown me that struggling with unfulfilled desires is far more than just those two desires.

There are so many types of desires, and so many women struggle with unfulfilled desires. While one friend might struggle with unfulfilled desires for a child, another friend struggles with unfulfilled desires for a better job. To someone who is longing for a child, the desire for a job (especially coming from a woman who does have a job) might seem petty. But to the one seeking the job, the unfulfilled dream or hope causes an immense ache.

The reality is that each of these aches is real and intense to the one struggling with the longing. My longing to be married may seem selfish to someone seeking a job that better allows the woman to serve the Body of Christ. But that doesn’t mean either of our longings is any less real to us or any less present to the Father. We as women feel the pain of our unfulfilled longings, and the Father knows that pain intimately. He knows that we suffer, and he longs to use that suffering to act in our lives.

As I’ve prayed for this intention, I’ve found myself led to pray for comfort and peace for these women. I ask the Lord to fulfill these desires according to His Will. But primarily, I pray for the peace of the women struggling. If I’m to be a good wife to my maybe-possibly-someday husband or another woman is to be a good mother to a longed-for child, we need grace. We need peace abiding in our hearts. Before anything else, I need to surrender my dreams and desires and goals to the Lord and trust in His perfect plan. (Am I good at this? No. I pray “God, make me good and do it now” often. I pray for a husband to come “soon because I just can’t do this anymore” but who said that I was ever supposed to do this alone?) Unfulfilled desires are not easy to bear. They just aren’t.

We have only to look to the Bible for examples and role models. Sarah, Hannah, Rachel, and Elizabeth each longed for a child. Leah longed for the love of her husband. Ruth longed for stability. Esther wanted to save her nation. Deborah wanted to lead her people well. Abigail wanted to be loved. Did Leah ever really get what she wanted? Rachel died when Benjamin was young; she gave birth to two sons but didn’t live to see them grow to adulthood. God’s will doesn’t always line up with our plans. I may never get married. Or if I marry, I may never have children. Esther saved her nation, but that didn’t permanently eliminate suffering from the lives of her people.

Mary washes the feet of Jesus

Ultimately, the biggest thing that I’ve learn is that when I’m praying for women struggling with unfulfilled desires, I’m really praying for all women. We all have unfulfilled desires. We all feel empty or abandoned at times. But we have a God who sees and knows our desires. He loves us, and he longs to give us good things. Sometimes the things we desire are not right for us. (I’d like to thank the Lord for saying no to some prayers that my younger self prayed.) Sometimes the season isn’t right even if we don’t know why it isn’t. (Some questions will never be answered on this side of Paradise.) But at no time will we be unloved or unwanted by the Lord.

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD your God, he it is that does go with you; he will not fail you, nor forsake you.

-Deuteronomy 31:6

Me too.

When “me too” started buzzing around the internet as a way of saying that I too am a woman who has been sexually harassed and/or assaulted, I knew that I should chime in. It’s two words. All you have to do is type them and share them. People need to know that this sort of thing is far more common than anyone wants to believe.

But I was scared. I knew that I should tell my story, but it’s hard. It is hard to tell the truth about something when for far too long you’ve been told to be silent about that very thing.

See…here’s the thing. On Saturday, September 20, 2008, I was sexually assaulted. I was not raped, but I was taken advantage of. I was young. I was naive. And I was in a foreign country. I was in a place where everyone said that I had to experience the local culture. I had to explore. I had to try new things. I had to do things that I wouldn’t normally do.

So I bought a dress, a dress that was very pretty. I put on the dress. I let someone do my hair. I did my makeup. I went to a club. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to avoid Red Bull and Vodka.

By the end of the night, I had managed to avoid Red Bull and Vodka but not the smell of that pairing. And I had not had fun.

I’d gone into the evening with an idea that I’d dance with a few girl friends and maybe a cute guy. But I just wanted to have fun. I thought I was safe because I fit in with Spanish women. I was olive-skinned and dark-haired; surely, Spanish men would find me boring. They’d have no interest in me in my pink and brown halter dress with my brown sandals. Oh, I was wrong.

Instead, I’d had a random man I’d never even spoken to pull me away from my friends and stick his tongue into my mouth and his hands in places well…I wouldn’t want to tell my mother about. I was scared stiff. I went along with what he was doing because I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking. I don’t know if I was. I just know that I was scared. I don’t know what would have happened if not for Colorado Boy.

Colorado Boy was a boy in my study abroad group who was nearby when this happened. I don’t know if we’d ever even spoken before. (I don’t even know if he was actually from Colorado; that’s just what my brain named him for this post.) The first time that I was aware of CB that night was when his hand was on my shoulder and he was saying something about his girlfriend. He pulled me away from Spanish Dude #1 telling the guy to get off his girlfriend. Who knows what SD#1 thought of CB? I don’t care. What I care about is that CB pulled me into a circle of girls who asked me if I was alright. They was kind. They were gentle. They reassured me that they were there if I needed any help.

The night went on. Another Spanish Dude wanted to dance with me. I wasn’t yet smart enough to say no, and I didn’t realize how far he’d managed to get me away from my group of friends until he asked me if he could take me home to meet his mother. I’m not dumb; I knew what that meant. But I couldn’t see any of my friends. I didn’t want to pay my taxi fare back to the hotel alone, and I didn’t want to disappear on my friends.

And somehow, I figured out a way out. I told SD#2 that I’d go home with him to “meet his mother.” But first I needed to tell my friends where I was going so that they wouldn’t worry about me. I walked off where I claimed I saw my friend and hid in the bathroom for ten minutes. When i came out, SD#2 was gone. Who knows what he thought about me in that moment, and honestly, who cares? Then, I went off in search of my friends. I eventually found them, and one of my friends and I agreed that we were ready to go home (being a bit bored of the club thing). So we began (slowly, it took over an hour) collecting our friends and back to the hotel we went.

I woke up the next morning tired and a little wiser and much sadder. I threw away the dress and shoes. Over the next several months, I battled an odd sadness that I couldn’t understand. Why was I so sad about what had happened? I’d been willing to dance with those men at first. I’d gone along with what they wanted. Sure, I jumped every time I heard a song (that I don’t even know the name of) that had been playing in the club that night. Vomit rose in my mouth whenever I smelled Red Bull. But I couldn’t understand why; I’d let those guys touch me.

Odd as it might sound, it wasn’t until I began watching Downton Abbey that I began to realize why I was so sad. It was 2011, more than two and a half years after my Spanish escapade. As Lady Mary’s storyline with Kemal Pamuk began to unfold, I heard so many of my friends condemn Lady Mary as impure or unchaste for her behavior in that night. And through that, I finally came to understand the sadness that even a good and kind therapist hadn’t been able to help me through.

If Lady Mary’s behavior with Kemal had been all her fault, then so had mine with those men. I had gone along with their actions because I was afraid. I didn’t know what to do, and so I let them do what they were doing. I hadn’t fought back because I hadn’t known how to. And I’d never told my story because I was afraid of being judged as impure or unworthy. That I hadn’t ended up hurt more badly or in more trouble was purely an accident of grace-CB’s timely intervention and an open bathroom stall where I could hide.

It took me a long time to accept that I’d been assaulted. It took me a long time to accept that what had happened was not my fault. But here’s the thing. It wasn’t my fault. None of the stories that have come out recently about women who suffered sexual harassment, assault, or abuse were the woman’s fault. Too many women (myself included) haven’t told their stories out of fear of being judged or not being believed. Someone once told me “You were in Spain. You just didn’t understand the culture.”

I don’t know that the problem was my lack of understanding of Spanish culture. I think the problem was that far too many people forget that every other person with whom they meet is a person, is an individual. It is too damn easy to treat others like objects and forget that these are individuals with rights and dignity. We need to change that. We have to change the narrative-not just for women, not just for men, but for all humans. We need to treat every human with respect and dignity.

Far too many people-both male and female-have stories like mine. We need to change the narrative so that more people feel safe saying “Me too” and so that fewer people have a reason to say that.

The Pursuit of Excellence

It’s my favorite week of any year that doesn’t contain the Olympics. It’s Nobel Prize week. Nobel Prize week (and the Monday after aka Economics Monday) is my favorite week of the year. I’ve always liked the Nobel Prizes because they celebrate what’s great about humanity; it’s a week of celebrating great accomplishments of the human race.

But my love affair with Nobel Prize week really took off in 2014. It was a rough year for humanity and for me personally. I was quite honest when I told my students that week that I didn’t expect anyone to win the Nobel Peace Prize that year because I didn’t know that anyone really deserved it. And then Friday rolled around and the award was given to one of my personal heroes, Malala Yousafzai, and Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian children’s and education activist. That won my heart because in that moment the Nobel Institute had, in a really hard year, found something really and truly great about humanity.

The more that I thought about it, the more I came to love Nobel Prize Week. I love this week when we focus on what humanity has done well. In years when there are no Olympics, it’s probably my favorite week. I think that it’s really important to focus on our strengths, to look at what we do well and honor that. If we want to become better people and do better as a human race, we need to focus on what we do well.

Similarly, I love the Olympics. Yes, they’re imperfect. They can be surrounded by corruption, bribery, and steroids. But they can also be surrounded by beautiful reminders of the resilience of the human spirit. The heart-warming stories that come out of the Olympics serve as reminders of what we as humans are capable. We may not all be able to run like Usain Bolt, but we all have greatness inside of us.

That’s what I love about weeks like Nobel Prize Week and the Olympics. I love weeks that remind us that we are born with the ability to do great things and to be excellent in side of us. Greatness and excellent don’t look the same for everyone, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We have to find our strengths and our greatness inside of ourselves and use those things to the best of our abilities. Some people may be great writers, others are great runners while others are great doctors. We won’t all be in the Olympics. We won’t all win Nobel Prizes. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for greatness or celebrate the greatness in others when we have the opportunity.

The smallest one was Madeline…

Last night, I was drifting off to sleep when soft almost squeaky “ma-row” sounds started coming towards my room. “Maddie,” I called. “Maddie, come here.”

Sure enough, Maddie came into my room, climbed up on my bed, and allowed me to pet her for a few minutes. That’s life with Maddie these days. But life with Maddie wasn’t always like this.

Maddie is my cat. She’s a tortoiseshell who weighs about ten pounds. Her hobbies include playing with bottlecaps and snuggling with books. She was born in May 2016, and she came into my life on August 1, 2016.

I first saw Madeline on the Michigan Humane Society’s website on a Tuesday in late July of 2016. I sent the link for her adoption profile to my roommate with the comment “Doesn’t she look just like baby Scouty?” At the time we had two cats, Jem and Scout. They were about a year old and a handful. We didn’t need another cat. So, Corallini (as MHS was calling the cat) wasn’t for us.

Fast-forward to the following Saturday: Scouty had gotten sick suddenly, and before I really knew what was happening, I was sitting alone on the floor of a vet’s office with a dying cat in my lap. With only three friends on the other end of a Facebook Messenger convo to keep me company, I had to make the hardest decision of my life. Scouty went to the Rainbow Bridge .

When I came home without her, Jem was lonely. Jem is an extrovert if ever a cat was one. In fact, he might be a puppy. He followed me everywhere. He watched movies with me. Scouty was his sister, his littermate; he’d never been alone in his life. I knew that Jem needed a new best friend.

And that Corallini on the MHS website came into my mind. Within 24 hours of Scouty’s passing, I’d decided to go to MHS on Monday to get a new cat. Preferably Corallini.

When I got to MHS, they let me into the kitten room. They had a few little loves in there, but I knew that I needed this little baby more than she needed me. She was listed as high needs. I was told that they weren’t letting her go to a home that didn’t already have cats. I told them about Jem; they decided that Jem would be perfect for the kitten.

I wanted to rename the kitten, and she was tiny. I quickly settled on Madeline in reference to “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…the smallest one was Madeline.” My kitten was the runt of her litter. She was tiny; I was told she had “runt issues.” She was Madeline.

I took her home. She complained once I started driving, but she settled down a little when I turned on some Mumford and Sons. With time, I’ve learned that she just likes music generally.

I brought her into the apartment, and we introduced her to Jem. He wanted to play; she reared all two pounds of herself up and hissed at the fifteen pound cat trying to bat her around. By the end of the week, they were BFFs. They snuggle. They bathe each other. 

Maddie took longer to warm up to people. But she’s made it clear that while she’s never going to be the snuggliest cat in the world, she likes us. She hugs my arm sometimes. She purrs when I’m near her. She loves being scritched and petted. She will sit still while you read to her if she can snuggle with your book. She loves to carry socks around. She will put them in her favorite places. She loved the Christmas tree.

She’s a funny little darling. She’s well behaved. She likes her friends although she does not deign to have many of those. She will come running if she hears a bottle being opened or hears ice being moved. She always wants her socks to be near herself. And I’m exceedingly glad that she and I happened into each other’s lives at just the right moment.

But I am le tired…

There are things in my life that I care about-my family, my faith, my job, my friends, my cats, and my knitting. Books and Netflix are pretty important. Especially books; I love books. For those things, I can rouse up energy to do many, many things. But for me expending energy into all of those things can be exhausting. And at the end of the day, I am tired.

There are other things that I could do with my life, but I choose not to because I’m tired. I was recently talking to a few friends about online dating. I’ve tried it before with less than exciting results, and I don’t really want to do it again (EVER) but a few people have advised me to try it again. (Side note: Why do people give free unsolicited advice to single women so often?) So we were talking it through. Should I? But here’s the thing. I’m tired. I live consistently fluctuating between a little tired and completely exhausted. Some of this is my job. Some of it is the circumstances of my life. Some of it is the betablocker that I swallow every morning as a migraine preventative. Basically? I’m tired. I don’t have time to put my best side forward in yet another area of my life.

From 8am until 3pm every day, I play the role of Ms. Warm-Friendly-Loving-Sweet-Extrovert. I’m not an extrovert. I’m just not. I’m not always super friendly or warm in real life. But for several hours a day, I ooze warmth. I bubble and giggle and tease. And don’t get me wrong; I love kids. I love my job. But it’s hard not only intellectually but also emotionally. It is draining to pretend to be Ms. Happy-Go-Lucky all day when I’m really just a cucumber with anxiety. Let’s be real, kids; that’s exhausting.

And because I’m tired, I just don’t have the energy to try to impress other people. I recently had dinner with a friend and when she asked me how I was, I just told her the truth. I’m exhausted. I’m not subtle when I’m fully awake; I’m a sledgehammer when I’m exhausted. If I’m tired, I’ll tell you. If I’m crabby, I’ll tell you.

Does that sound like someone you want to go on a date with? I wouldn’t want to date me. I barely want to get me out the door. (Admittedly, that’s because I want to be sleeping.) I think that I’m a better teacher if I rest as much as possible. And I think that we’re all better off if I’m not dating right now. I think we’re all better off if I’m celebrating National Beer Drinking Day while reading or watching a good show on Netflix.