Who Remembers Your Name

Legacy, what is a legacy?

We have all had that thought at some point in our lives. We stop whatever we are doing at that moment, gaze out the window into the bustling sounds of the city muted behind glass panels and wonder to ourselves to what end is this struggle for?

It is human to long for the knowledge that we matter, that we fulfil some purpose larger than ourselves for the benefit of whomever it may concern, in the hopes that our deeds will carry on long after we are gone. And after what appears to be a few minutes of existential dread we shrug our shoulders, bringing us back to the present moment, and carry on about our day. Repeat ad nauseam.

The question of our own legacy is a question that many of us have yet to answer for ourselves, and ultimately many of us tend to avoid it entirely, not because we do not care, but because we do not know how to resolve it.

This is the very question that Lin-Manuel Miranda, the artistic genius behind the award-winning musical Hamilton, intended to address. Inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, Miranda endeavoured to tell the tale of how a bastard and orphan, staring at death’s door before he was even 10 years old, managed to become one of America’s Founding Fathers. Instead of shying away from the idea of a legacy, Hamilton embraced it to its full extent.

Hamilton—both the show and the man himself—eases the ultimate question into our minds; how will we be remembered when we are gone? Who will tell our stories?

It is an abnormality, in no negative sense, to persist in some form over time and outlive yourself. Even the people who transcended normalcy and live a life a little bit more interesting than the average person are as easily lost to time as the rest of us. One would need to accomplish some spectacular feat, be it in technological breakthroughs, social innovation, fighting for some grandiose cause, to capture the eyes of history. And even then, they too will succumb and fade given time.

Hamilton was obsessed with leaving behind his legacy, and for a time it was his sole driving motivation to carry on living. Early in his life, he experienced first-hand how fleeting and cheap life is in the face of this brutally unforgiving world. His father left him and his mother to their fates before he was even ten years of age, taking with him everything that they needed to survive. Not long afterwards both he and his mother fell gravely ill; a predicament which his mother did not survive. Yet he braved on, working for and saving whatever money and knowledge he can get his hands on, which helped set him sailing towards mainland America into the heart of the Revolution in 1776.

He dove head-first into the war for independence, desperate for recognition in the battlefield. It wasn’t even enough for him as he was appointed as George Washington’s aide; he wanted to be on the frontlines with troops to command, and he was willing to die for a chance at glory. He begged to be deployed in the frontlines multiple times over for a reckless strive for acclamation; something that put him at odds with Washington himself on one occasion.

However, as Hamilton forged close relationships with the people he would cherish the most in his life as the war dragged on, his drive for greatness remained, but the motivation behind it changed ever so drastically. In 1780, he met his wife Elizabeth Schuyler, and in what seemed to be an instantaneous moment, he had found his family once more.

After the war, he was suddenly faced with the realisation that he, and millions of other people, were caught in the afterbirth of a nation. And now with a family by his side, he yet again braved on with the hopes of laying a strong enough foundation for the generations who will one day be in his shoes. He involved himself with the drafting and ultimately the signing of the Constitution, he wrote 51 of the 85 essays defending the Constitution to the public, he designed a financial plan which propelled his country from financial crisis, he did whatever he could to strengthen the pillars upon which his nation and its people rested.

In the end, he witnessed death finally caught up to him after so many years during the duel with his once close friend Aaron Burr. And he watched with a satisfied smile on his face.

It is easy to perhaps see Hamilton’s story in an idealised light; after all, it isn’t every day that one would be among many directly involved with the formation of an entire society and way of life. However, it is important to note that in spite of his grand tale, he was not so different than any of us in more ways than one. He fought to survive and escape squalor and death, as any of us would have done. He fought in pursuit of something that he believed would make his life just a little bit better, as any of us would have done. He lived in dedication for himself, his country, and the family he loved dearly with the hopes that he would return to them the support that they have given him, as any of us would have done.

And that is precisely the point.

As Hamilton laid on his bed dying after having lost a duel against his once close friend, he harboured no vengeance against him, he did not lament of his early death. He held his family close to him; his children, and his wife Eliza, and wished for them to carry on and live their lives to the fullest.

Leaving behind a legacy, in all its romanticised definition, for a sense of validation should not be the end goal of our lives. If there is anything to be taken away from the life of Alexander Hamilton, it is the realisation that the notions of leaving behind a legacy is all but a distraction to the greater prize obscured behind it: a life well lived.

If you can look into yourself, to the smiling faces of your friends and family, and to those people who you cherish and care about and say to yourself that you’re satisfied, then being remembered is merely an added bonus.

The dreams you’re striving for, the lasting relationships you’ve forged, they are all part of what makes a fulfilling life. A life well lived can only, in turn, resonate deeply in everyone whose lives you’ve touched, and you will find that when your time comes, you will be secure in the knowledge that you’ve done all you can and all you’ve wanted, as Hamilton did in his final moments.

The truth is that there is no guarantee that the memory of you as a person will persist after you’re gone, and you have no control over who gets to remember you either. But the impact you’ve made on the lives of the people you care about will carry on with them, and the hope they will bring to the people important to them will live on in turn.

Eliza lived another 50 years, and with the help of the people whose lives Hamilton touched, she established the first private orphanage in New York. She helped raise hundreds of children and pass on to them the hope that her husband had given her many years before.

This is the message that Hamilton wanted to show the world. A reminder that you should not shy away from the idea of forging your own legacy. But you can only accomplish such a goal when you are living a life created by yourself, for yourself.

Legacy is a consequence of a life well lived.