Journal of the Plague Year 2020: Purity and Sweetness and Pleasure

This clip of Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda greeting his fans on the street is the nicest thing ever. When New Yorkers spot Miranda, they respond with near-Beatlemania levels of shock and delight. It’s as if they’re confronted with a baby unicorn or a Siamese kitten, and they’re reduced to whimpers of glee. Here’s what’s amazing: Miranda is just as awestruck and delighted with his fans as they are with him. He seems genuinely thrilled and tickled with each interaction, and he melts down as much or more than they do.

It’s one thing to be gracious when you strike someone dumb with awe; it’s another to see their dorky radiance and raise it. I’m determined to flee anyone who would leave me starstruck. It’s just too mortifying to know that to them, your reaction is an outburst that requires management, not a human interaction.

That said, I have a longstanding fascination with the problems that charisma and beauty pose to their owners. Robert Caro, the brilliant biographer of Lyndon B. Johnson, writes that he chose his subject out of a desire to explore political power in its purest form. In other words, he’s not simply interested in character and incident; he’s chosen his subject and curated each detail to illuminate a single, complex, absorbing theme. In my own modest and unsystematic way, I’ve been considering the cost and consequence of charisma. I think of it in an almost mystical way: If the gods give you beauty or intellect or wealth, those qualities aren’t yours to squander or savor. An ethical or religious life requires you to dedicate your gifts to a meaningful end. The next volume of Inglorion’s biography, Duke of the Underdark, shows our hero taking real risks, not out of high-spirited recklessness, but from religious and moral conviction. He begins to understand that neither his gifts nor his ends are his own.

Tonight, think of the questions Billy on the Street asks when he’s got Lin-Manuel Miranda in tow: Are you happy? What gives you joy in this difficult time?

Look around. Find purity and sweetness and pleasure.

Love,

J.A. Thompson

Confirmed Covid-19 cases in Arizona: 187,523
Current hospitalizations: 1,575
Deaths: 4,154

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