I love experiences more than I love tangible things. I like photographs that remind me of the experiences. My mission is to see and experience as much as possible and to expose my daughter a variety of experiences ranging from the arts to the National Parks. Seeing new things is a love that we share.
If you had told me five years ago that I would spend a good chunk of money going to a Broadway show, I would have likely shrugged. Guilty pleasure. However, if you had told me that I’d spend a good chunk of money going to a hip hop Broadway musical about the guy on the $10 bill, I’d likely have laughed. Hip hop is not my genre and I enjoy American history, but Alexander Hamilton is not a guy I recall learning a whole lot about…until 2015.
In the fall of that year, I learned of ‘Hamilton”, a new show at the Richard Rodgers theatre in New York. I listened to the soundtrack on Spotify and I was hooked. I shared it with my then 12-year old. She was also hooked and quickly became obsessed. Over the course of the last 4 years, we have become tremendous fans of “Hamilton: An American Musical.”
We were unable to see the production when we were in New York last summer, but the touring company has taken New Orleans hostage for the entire month of March. We were there, first in line at the Saenger on Sunday evening.
The music from ‘Hamilton” is a mixture of rapid-fire rap, soulful R&B and traditional Broadway fare. The delivery of each songs is intense and not once during the nearly three-hour production did boredom enter. It’s fast paced, and follows the story of orphan immigrant Alexander Hamilton rising through the ranks in New York City to become a leader in the American Revolution, George Washington’s chief staff aide, founder of the national bank, the New York Post and the Coast Guard.
I know you are likely thinking that it’s just another “rags to riches” tale, but it’s so much more. I have to emphasize the music again. It is phenomenal. The lyrics are astounding, relatable and quotable. It is brilliantly written, by an absolute genius, Lin-Manuel Miranda, son of Puerto Rican immigrants.
Miranda read American historian Ron Chernow’s biography on Alexander Hamilton and the rest is history. Chernow assisted Miranda in making sure that the historical facts were correct and the rest is pop culture history. To be able to write the lyrics to a hip hop musical based on a biography is proof of Miranda’s crazy genius! No biography has ever sparked my creativity!
So, yes. It really was worth the money and the time spent. I had the tickets for two months before mentioning them to Tatum, because I care about her academics. Knowledge of tickets would have caused her to obsess more than usual over the characters, music and story line and ignore her responsibilities. When I finally did tell her, a literal countdown, in the form of an iPhone app began.
The days ticked on by and we were finally in the theatre for the long-awaited, highly anticipated show. We were the first in the merch line to get that overpriced tee that she had to add to her collection of Broadway tees.
Three hours in the theatre flew by as we watched Hamilton’s complex relationships depicted on the stage. We laughed at King George as he pranced and scatted, promising to “send a fully armed battalion” to remind the colonies of his “love”. We applauded the over the top portrayal of Thomas Jefferson returning from France in purple velvet garb. When Eliza Hamilton burned the letters that her unfaithful husband had written, we cried. When she decided to put herself “back in the narrative” of his life and preserve his legacy, we cheered.
We got home from our adventure at 1:48 a.m. Monday. When that 5:30 alarm sounded, it was a struggle. Tatum and I reminded each other that if Alexander Hamilton could write 51 essays for The Federalist Papers in 6 months, we could likely survive on the bare minimum amount of sleep for one day.
We survived and are still talking about our most recent adventure with each other and anyone who will listen. I foresee more experiences for us in the future, because, as Hamilton proclaimed from the stage, “There’s a million things we haven’t done!”
From a mother’s heart addresses tragedy and hope
By: Shannon Courington
“In the mere seconds it took for the drunk driver to cross that center line, my world as I knew it came to a screeching halt.” Cowart penned these words remembering vividly the phone call that changed the trajectory of her life forever. Brandy, age 10, Taylor, age 8 and Sara-Frances, age 6, would never enter their home again. They would never again play with their “baby” siblings, Gus, age 2, and Mary Alice who was one-week shy of her first birthday. In an instant, half of Cowart’s family was gone. “My children are gone, but they are not lost. I know exactly where my children are.”
Toni Cowart’s story is one that has been in the making for almost 22 years. A beautiful October day turned dark in 1997 when three of Cowart’s children lost their lives in a horrific car crash that has not been forgotten by those who live in Clarke County. The Wiggins Children Memorial Bridge on Highway 84 east of Grove Hill is a poignant reminder of tragedy, the brevity of life and the consequences of drinking and driving.
Over two decades later, Cowart has chosen to embrace hope and to share her story and the lessons that she learned from her children’s lives and sadly, from their deaths. Her memories of Brandy, Taylor and Sara-Frances fill the pages of her first book, From a Mother’s Heart. “As a mom, I want to tell stories about my children. I want to say their names. I want other people to say their names. I also want to tell people that whatever they are facing, whatever they are going through, they are not alone.”
Cowart’s book began in a unique way. “I had a tote bag full of slivers of paper and a notebook and I carried it with me. I would just write things down and I journaled back at that time, but I started fine tuning things about a year and a half ago.”
That’s when Cowart decided that it was time to pursue the project that been consuming a large portion of her thoughts for two decades. In a leap of faith, she stepped away from her job as an insurance broker and began to write using those journals and precious slips of paper filled with memories. Cowart describes the process as a “healing” one. “It would hurt me more not to be able to talk about those precious lives.”
Cowart understands that many people are uncomfortable in the presence of someone who has had a difficult loss because of the emotions associated with it and because no one wants to intentionally hurt those who are already wounded. No one really knows what to say or how to say anything when tragedy strikes. “I want everyone who knows me to know about my babies. I can’t meet someone and become their friend without telling them about my children. I have five children, three of them are in Heaven. They are still as much a part of my life today as they were then. My whole point for the book was to share about my babies. I also want people to know who have suffered hurt, pain, loss that they are not alone in the path that they are walking. The world is not kind to us on a regular basis.
In the years that have passed since that grim day in 1997, Cowart has relied on her faith to be able to face each day, each child’s birthday, each holiday, each milestone event that her children’s classmates celebrated, and each painful anniversary of the day that forever altered her life. She openly shares her faith with readers and with audiences that she addresses as she speaks around the region. The book is Cowart’s attempt to invest in the lives of hurting people while keeping the memory and spirit of her children alive.
During a recent local book signing event, people that Cowart had never met poured in to hug her, to speak encouraging words to her and to share that they had prayed for her intermittently since that dark day in 1997. In turn, she thanked each person and answered questions openly. Other mothers who had experienced the loss of children approached her and the evidence of an invisible, inexplicable sisterhood was present. None of them had chosen these paths. Nor had they anticipated them. Yet here they were, in new seasons without the people around whom their worlds once revolved.
Though at times tearful, Cowart exuded a peace that is indescribable, except maybe from her own words, “In spite of the scars that history has etched upon my very being, I am in an amazing place and I am happier than I ever truly thought possible. I am learning to embrace each new season I come to and that personal experience is priceless. We don’t ask for ‘our story’, but it is ours nonetheless. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade mine with anyone else. God has given me the sweetest gift-the gift of beauty from ashes. Being able to truly embrace and enjoy life in spite of tragedy gives me an incredible freedom.”
From a Mother’s Heart can be purchased from Amazon. Toni would love to hear from you and to speak for your events, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
In an age of instant communication, we have forgotten the importance of actually writing letters and sending greeting cards. My friend Cindy in South Dakota is in her late 70’s. She and I exchange letters regularly, although she has an iPhone. Another friend who is younger than I, sends a greeting card each week and I reciprocate. These cards include brief, handwritten notes. I look forward to going to the mailbox late in every week.
Unfortunately, letter writing is becoming a lost art. Digital communication is quicker and more convenient. Skype and FaceTime allow us to see the people we love and hear their voices. Those are wonderful technological advances, but there is something about “snail mail” that is endearing and heartwarming. My fifteen-year-old calls it “vintage communication,” but she smiles big when she receives a letter from “Grandma Cindy” that details her adventures and misadventures in the South Dakota snow. There is something about handwritten letters. Here are a few observations I have made:
Side note—one of the best cards I ever received was from a fourth- grade student for Teacher Appreciation Week more than a decade ago. It was a sympathy card. Yes! The note inside was precious. “Mrs. Courington, I love you. This is a sad card, but it’s the only one I had at my house. I drew happy faces for you.”
Handwritten words matter, so do hand-drawn happy faces.
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.