It was 7:30 on a Friday night and my hand hovered above the return key of the laptop on my kitchen table. On the screen, the details of the unlikely purchase I was about to make, more money than I had ever spent with the exception of cars and house, more money than I ever spent in a day. The screen was waiting on me.
When I was working my way through college, I routinely paid for gas for my commute with change collected from my car floor. On really affluent days, maybe once every three months, I got a half roast beef and swiss cheese sandwich for $2.25 from the corner store and I relished it. The experience of those days made me frugal with myself for years afterwards.
In my younger days, I had learned generosity. My parents regularly gave to others out of time and money that weren’t extra but essential. Like the old woman in the Bible story, they gave what they had, and it somehow always worked out. When my mother took me aside at age seven to tell me about Santa, she said that she still believed in St. Nicholas and his help, because somehow Christmas always came together for us, though she didn’t know how. Looking back, I know. My parents anonymously gave bikes to kids in our parish, and meals to the needy. They served others quietly, my Dad fighting for then-rare restaurant checks and always tipping way more than custom. From them, I learned that when you live simply and generously, trying to do the right thing by other people, good things come back around for you. It was Karma, but Catholic, kismet with rosary beads.
So here I was at the laptop, stretched between frugality for myself and generosity for others, specifically for my sixteen-year old daughter. On the screen, details of the very expensive resale Hamilton tickets for which I had spent the day researching; as it turned out, the best deal to see the show before creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s exit in early July seemed to be the very next day, a Saturday matinee, ORCH row C, seats 17 and 19.
I love shows, and music, and Broadway, but Hamilton is no ordinary show. When my daughter introduced me to the music, we were immediately all-in, totally captivated. It reminded me of another splurge I made when I was her age: $36 out of my first full time summer check for the original Broadway cast album of Les Mis, after seeing it on an AP English field trip and coming home completely obsessed. I listened to that two-CD set day and night until not only me, but my whole family was spellbound, ultimately seeing the show dozens of times between us.
Hamilton and Les Mis both do an amazing job of capturing the human experience from many angles at once, giving keen insight into a range of emotion, struggle, and hope, and maybe that is the reason for their broad appeal. But Hamilton breaks so many conventions, and cuts to the heart of an amazing story with such brilliance, it’s hard to find the words to describe it, and impossible to put a price on it.
Looking at that screen, I clicked ‘purchase’ and that’s the last time I thought of it in terms of money because that day, that experience of seeing the theatre, of seeing my daughter’s face, of her outright sobbing when she read that her favorites would all be performing that day, of her holding my hand during ‘Dear Theodosia’, a song about the love and hope a parent has for a child, of our shared astonishment at the beauty and transcendant genius of we were witnessing…. all of it was obviously and forever priceless.
But that Friday night, just hours before we boarded the train, before we walked through NYC using a maps app to find our way, before we settled into our seats and took pictures of the stage and the program, I had a choice between frugality for myself and generosity for my daughter. What I learned in that click and all that followed was that generosity for her equated to kindness to myself. Life is short, as both Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alexander Hamilton know full well. Taking your shot when it is before you can make all the difference, and I am beyond happy that I did.
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