Forgiveness by
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Prompted By Forgiveness

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For better and worse, I have the mind of a joke teller.  Indeed, I was told a few years by a prominent Russian-American writer that my last name translates, more or less, to “jokester” in Russian.  (“Shutki” is apparently the Russian word.)

Thus, when Pope’s famous line about forgiveness was cited in this week’s prompt, I was immediately reminded of a variation on it in a compendium of insults I had as a kid.  To wit: “To err is human.  Why must you be so human?”

Anyhow, I have been plenty human in my life.  As a result, I have both forgiven and been forgiven any number of times.  But I take forgiveness as a very serious topic.  Thus, if I were to spill a drink on someone’s carpet — back in the days when there were such things as non-Zoom cocktail parties — I would apologize and would expect my apology to be accepted (assuming I also helped to clean it up), but I don’t consider that such a non-critical scenario to rise to the level of forgiveness. No; for forgiveness to come into play, at least by my definition, there must first be some deep wrong to have been committed.

And much as I enjoy tossing out some of my adventures and misadventures to my dear Retro friends, the instances in my life that I consider to have truly constituted forgiveness — either by me or to me — are so personal that I feel I cannot really share them so openly. Sort of like a Catholic in a confessional, though I’m not Catholic and I’ve never confessed in a church, nor sat on the other side of that little booth either. Anyhow, I’d ask everyone on Retro for his or her forgiveness for not sharing my stories, but that would sort of defeat my whole point here, wouldn’t it?  But I am sorry.

That said, I was pondering this prompt seriously a few weeks ago when my wife and I streamed the filmed version of “Hamilton,” which we had seen on Broadway in 2016 — at the cost of a small trust fund — and loved.  And I realized that, among the various stories that “Hamilton” told, there was a very moving one about forgiveness near the end of the Second Act.

Let me set the stage. Hamilton has had an affair while married to the wonderful Eliza.  He then compounds his betrayal of her by going public with the affair in what he viewed as his best defense against being blackmailed.  So, to put it mildly, he and Eliza are on the outs and she is one understandably pissed-off wife. To make matters worse, their son Phillip is then killed in a duel.  (Yes, Hamilton Sr. wasn’t the first one in his family to die that way.)  So, to again put it way too mildly, things are about as low as they can be for Hamilton and Eliza.

Cut then to the song “It’s Quiet Uptown,” about Hamilton and Eliza moving to a new farmhouse in Upper Manhattan.  Here are the lyrics (Angelica is Eliza’s sister, and loyal to both of them):

“Hamilton: Look at where we are. Look at where we started. I know I don’t deserve you Eliza, but hear me out. That would be enough. If I could spare his life. If I could trade his life for mine, he’d be standing here right now, and you would smile, and that would be enough. I don’t pretend to know, the challenges we’re facing. I know there’s no replacing what we’ve lost, and you need time. But I’m not afraid, I know who I married. Just let me stay here by your side. That would be enough.

Chorus: If you see him in the street, walking by her side, talking by her side, have pity.

Hamilton: Eliza do you like it uptown? It’s quiet uptown.

Chorus: He is trying to do the unimaginable. See them walking through the park, long after dark. Taking in the sights of the city.

Hamilton: Look around, look around Eliza.

Chorus: They are trying to do the unimaginable.

Angelica: There are moments that the words don’t reach. There’s a grace too powerful to name. We push away what we can never understand. We push away the unimaginable. They are standing in the garden, Alexander by Eliza’s side. She takes his hand. It’s quiet uptown.
Chorus: Forgiveness
Can you imagine?
Can you imagine?
If you see him in the street, walking by her side, talking by her side, have pity. They are going through the unimaginable.”

And here is a recording of the entire beautiful song:

This song, better than I could ever express it, is about forgiveness.  Can you imagine?

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin

Characterizations: been there, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I agree, this a difficult prompt, John. Do we bare our souls? Thank you for reminding me of the marvelous “Hamilton”, which we still haven’t streamed (but I will, by golly). I saw it on Broadway in 2017. Seeing that and “Dear Evan Hansen” was my 65th birthday present and thought it deserved all the praise it received from everyone I knew.

    In the email I wrote before sending my story to the people who used to read my story on Facebook, before I stopped posting there, I wrote of a John Lewis story I heard just last week. One of the many State Troopers who had beaten him when he was young (though not one at from Selma), came to Washington with his own teenage son and asked to see the Congressman. The former trooper asked John for forgiveness for the beating, saying he was truly sorry. He cried, his son cried. John forgave them and they all hugged. John hoped the boy would learn about true forgiveness and to pay that lesson forward with respect and kindness for all. WOW! That’s forgiveness!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Betsy. And, IMHO, re-watching Hamilton is definitely worth it. A somewhat different experience than seeing it live — for better and worse — but wonderful.
      And thank you for the incredibly timely story about John Lewis. What a perfect example of what forgiveness should be all about.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Reading your story brought tears to my eyes (again), John. We saw Hamilton four times, twice on stage and twice on Disney+ before we unsubscribed. In the stage versions, that scene did not move me as much as the TV version. Perhaps it was the ability to focus totally on Alexander and Eliza because of the camera’s focus. That was such a beautiful example of pure forgiveness. Of course, who knows if it really occurred that way. None of us were in the room where it happened.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Laurie, and great reference (even if the odious John Bolton stole it first). And I fully agree with you; the camera focus in the streamed production really did bring out more in the smaller, more personal scenes. Such as this one of, as you note, pure forgiveness. (Conversely, I think the stage version better served the big, loud production numbers. They were electrifying.)

  3. Well, here I go gushing again, John, but this story is a master stroke (a distant cousin of mask debates, if you catch my drift)! I just love the way you intertwined the serious subject matter with your trademark humor. And now i MUST watch Hamilton…I might be the only one here who hasn’t seen it. Tried to get tickets last time we were in NY…as if!$!$! Disney is closer to home.

  4. Suzy says:

    John, it’s understandable that you didn’t want to write about your own transgressions, or those of others towards you, although I bet you have some great stories! Glad you found a forgiveness story to write about.

    I am probably one of the few people on the planet who did NOT like Hamilton. I didn’t use up the trust fund to see it on Broadway, but I did see it on Disney and had a wee bit of trouble staying awake in the first half. Watched the second half a week later and liked it better, and of course that’s where this song is. Yes, if Eliza really did forgive him, that’s an amazing example of forgiveness, since it’s his fault that their son was in the duel where he was killed. But as Laurie points out, who knows if it really happened this way.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Yes; Suzy. I do have a few stories. Whether they are great or just painful is hard to say.

      Sorry about your view of Hamilton, but I sure understand. “De gustibus…” and all that. But I do agree that, if it really happened as in the show, Eliza’s forgiveness was absolutely saintly.

  5. Marian says:

    Terrific story, John, and although I’ve heard the soundtrack, I better subscribe to Disney+ so I can see the show. I teared up during the song, so powerful.

  6. Thanx John!
    Like a million of us locked-up souls, I just paid Disney Plus for the chance to see Hamilton, and that song resonates.

  7. Risa Nye says:

    John, this is very timely as I just watched the show again with my son and his wife and mother-in-law (they called it “Gramilton”: a viewing for the two grandmothers). Once on stage and twice on Disney+ for me. This is a perfect choice for this prompt, and I understand about not wanting to go there personally.

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