I Follow Tears

I follow tears. 

Glistening eyes, quivering lips, red rising on cheeks. Clues on a path to story. A big, black circle on the map to the heart. 

My kids’ maps are well worn and well known. They’ve been in my back pocket their whole lives, more familiar than my own, really. 

And why is that? Harder to pick up on our own clues? Or, perhaps it is harder to identify the scene the black circle points to. What are those tears telling us?

When the tears come and stump us, leaving us confused or surprised, I’ve learned to pause. Notice. Name. 

The scene is this:

It is Month Five of COVID and we are watching Hamilton on Disney Plus. We are out of popcorn, but not wine. This crosses my mind because the one time I did see a Broadway show, I ordered a glass of wine during Intermission. I have the lyrics on my phone, because unlike my girls, I have not been listening to the soundtrack on repeat for months. I barely know it’s a hip hop musical. I know nothing of the plot. 

So, of course, the whole thing is an utter delight. A complete surprise. I catch my breath during the song, “Helpless.” Their voices are divine. I have been smiling for over two hours straight. No wonder the world has gone crazy for tickets. This is brilliant. 

And then, it happens. 

Spoiler: Hamilton dies. His wife, Eliza, enters stage right. She is in a simple white dress, empire waist, straight out of Jane Austen’s eighteenth-century wardrobe. 

Suddenly, the entire narrative is hers. Eliza lives another fifty years. Compiles and publishes her husband’s copious writings. Raises funds for the Washington Monument.  Speaks out against slavery. Builds the first private orphanage (still operating today) and helps raise hundreds of children. Wait: have we just watched the story she wrote?

Is Hamilton her doing? Her story? She amplifies Alexander’s story. George Washington’s. Orphans’ and slaves’. And her own. Could her enigmatic gasp as the curtain falls be a realization that her story has been told, too?

I am sobbing. Not just glistening eyes or quivering lips, but full on, dripping, snorting, sobbing.

We clean up. Get ready for bed. I say to my husband, “Well, that was an interesting response.” On the surface, I am not surprised that the most powerful part of the show for me is Hamilton’s wife having her moment on stage. The moment of the musical. But I know there is more. Such an immediate, visceral response to the fierce and lovely woman in white has made a big black circle on the map to my heart, and it will take persistent curiosity to follow my tears to the story. 

For days I let Eliza permeate my thoughts, listening to her final song on repeat. I try to process with my daughter, but am unable to form coherent sentences through another round of my tears. I slip into research mode, allowing myself the distraction of believing this is about Eliza. Meanwhile, my soul is percolating. 

In her words, I feel a kinship so deep that for a sudden, startling moment, it is my story unfolding on stage. It is my choice to put myself back in the narrative, to amplify other voices, to tell their stories. I too ask, Have I done enough? 

But it is Eliza’s final gasp that leaves me undone. 

For most of my life I have pictured myself in a similar theater, spotlight searching the crowd and landing on the person sitting next to me, over and over again. The award goes to… The winner is… My deeper question hasn’t really been, Have I done enough? But, Is what I’ve done noticeable? 

This struggle I can’t seem to shake. A vulnerable place that is poked again and again. The raw wound that never fully heals. More raw than I even realized, as evidenced in Hamilton-evoked sobs. 

As Eliza is ushered into death by her husband, she sees her crowd of witnesses in the audience, and her question is answered. Her gasp echoes my own. My tears flow, and I receive a long-awaited smile from Heaven: my question is answered, too. 

Beth Bruno is passionate about issues of injustice and a global sisterhood. Often, this looks like curating the stories and work of incredible women and calling her two teen daughters at least once a day to “come watch this.” Married for 23 years, she and her husband share a love for dark chocolate, dark coffee, and bold wine, among other passions. Their son is headed to college so Beth is not thinking about it by nursing an obsession with Turkish hot air balloons and European villages on her Instagram feed.