My team and I are planning for our annual gala event, the Dragon Challenge. My team would like to start the evening, which highlights our incredible Dragon Fellows and three prestigious judges, with a slideshow tribute to Dragon. They’re planning for a string quartet from our Music Program to play a piece. They want to play “Dear Theodosia” from Hamilton.
Oh dear. Oh Dear Theodosia.
I don’t think anyone knows what this song means to me.
I remember when the musical phenomenon, Hamilton, first came out. It was 2015. Our family had just lost Dragon. The wound was so fucking fresh, and here came this hit musical that Hannah was listening to 24/7. All the songs were wonderful, but I fell in love with the ballad sung by Aaron Burr, in the dewy-eyed moments when he first beheld his first child, his daughter Theodosia.
Dear Theodosia, what to say to you?
You have my eyes, you have your mother’s name
When you came into the world, you cried
And it broke my heart
I’m dedicating every day to you
Domestic life was never quite my style
When you smile, you knock me out, I fall apart
And I thought I was so smart
Lin Manuel Miranda’s genius lyrics summarized so much of what I felt as a first-time mother. “Dear Theodosia” transported me to the year, 2000, when I held my own newborn in my arms.
Dragon’s was a tough, tough labor – 30 hours including 3 hours of pushing, only to end in a C-section. The opening lyrics mirrored so much of what I felt in those blurry first days — the overwhelming love I felt for our baby, this spitting image of his father, this precious child, this Dragon.
The next lyric:
You will come of age with our young nation
We’ll bleed and fight for you
We’ll make it right for you
If we lay a strong enough foundation
We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you
And you’ll blow us all away
Yeah, you’ll blow us all away
These lyrics spoke to the feeling that many of us parents have, about why we work hard and why we sacrifice, for our families and for our kiddos. The love we have for our children inspires us to work for a better world. Our children and our families are why we wake up every day to fight the good fight.
I also loved the last refrain: “You’ll blow us all away, someday, someday.” It acknowledges the world of promise I saw in Dragon and the person he would become. They say that our children are not just who they are in any given moment – they are also all the future selves we see in them: the teenager, the young man, the husband, and the father he would someday become. When we lost 14 year old Dragon, we also lost all that we had hoped for him, and frankly, for ourselves: a future with this beloved young man, the first son of the first son of the first son. Such insightful lyrics, such a good song.
But it’s probably the next lyric that killed me. Now the singer switches to Alexander Hamilton, who is holding his son Phillip in his arms.
Oh, Philip, when you smile I am undone
My son, look at my son
Pride is not the word I’m looking for
There is so much more inside me now
Oh, Philip, you outshine the morning sun
When you smile, I fall apart
And I thought I was so smart
Dragon was that for us. He was our son, and our sun. He transformed our life, as any first child will do, and he illuminated our life. He had a light in him that everyone saw – us, his family, his friends. He was only fourteen, and I had assumed I had a whole lifetime to watch him learn and grow.
Alexander Hamilton, as we know, also lost his son. This baby Phillip would grow up to be killed in a duel while defending his father. Listening to these lyrics, my heart broke for Alexander Hamilton, this new father, who would someday also have to survive his son’s death. My heart also broke for Daniel, who was also working to survive his son’s death, who I know is still living with a broken heart.
And all these thoughts swirled around my head all those times Hannah listened to the Hamilton soundtrack during those years, which, my friends, was a lot.
Friends, this August 14, it will have been seven years since Dragon was killed. Seven years. Seven years without Dragon’s smile, his laughter, his teasing, his deep voice, his saracastic wit, his gentleness, his vitality, his love. Does time heal all wounds? No, it does not. Surviving the death of our son has been like surviving the loss of one half of my body. It’s not something I will ever “get over”, but it’s something I’ve learned to live with. Time doesn’t “heal that wound,” but Time has given me, Daniel, and Hannah a chance to learn to live with the trauma. Or, to paraphrase another brilliant Hamilton song, in time, we have learned to live with the unimaginable.
Here is a great video of the original cast performing Dear Theodosia. Should you want to see our performance of this song, and to see our Dragon Fellows in action, please join us at the Dragon Challenge at UCI.