[Genesis 32 with a modern cast of characters]
Lin-Manuel Miranda, his family and close friends, were on a working vacation in the Dominican Republic when Lin’s collaborator, Quiara Hudes, brought him a message. “Wyclef Jean wants to meet with you.” she said, referring to the Haitian musician.
“Sure, have him come over.”
“He wants to bring 400 friends & family, and he wants to meet at the Haitian border.”
Lin-Manuel took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. It was a bold & intrusive request, seemingly out-of-the-blue; but Lin-Manuel, the dramatist, couldn’t say no. “Let’s make it a camping trip, then.” A date was set, and when the time came Lin-Manuel ventured out with nearly 100 colleagues, friends and family.
After driving to Jimani the party hiked southwest, toward the border along the Rio Blanco, pitching their tents about halfway. Lin, though a gregarious type, occasionally liked some time alone, and pitched his tent away from the others, across the river.
In the night an angel appeared in the form of Felice Leon of The Root. “Look at me, Lin-Manuel,” said the angel. “Under this beautiful dark exterior I’m pulsating pink, just like you. I don’t see myself reflected in your work, though.”
“The In The Heights movie’s done, I can’t remake it now,” protested Lin-Manuel. “I’ll try to do better next time.” Then he added, without meaning to say his next thought, “Who are you, and why don’t you go back where you came from?”
“You mean Cuba?” asked the angel. “Maybe I will. Or maybe,” she said archly, “I’ll bring Cuba to Nuevo York.”
“That’s your business” said Lin, wishing she’d leave. “Who are you to be up in mine?”
“I’ll show you your business,” said the angel, and the two wrestled, a long, difficult fight, with many reversals. At last Lin had the upper hand, pinning the angel to the ground.
“Tell me your name,” Lin-Manuel demanded.
“I am that I am,” said the angel. “Now get off me, you big oaf!” Lin slowly rose and shook himself off. “You’re as thick as your ticket lines are long, aren’t you,” said the Angel. “I grew up right down the street from you, and yet I’m invisible.”
“Hardly,” panted Lin, exhausted by the fight, “You’ve had your say, and it’s been widely reported. Isn’t that enough? I’m not the worst culprit.”
“Open your eyes, Lin-Manuel,” said the angel, “this isn’t over yet,” and with an expert sweep of her legs worthy of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Lin was flat on his back with the angel’s foot on his pelvis and his leg in her hands, at which point she expertly dislodged his thigh from its socket. “When they ask you why you’re limping, tell them I was here,” she said. “By the way, your name is Israel.”
“What ..?” ask Lin, “I don’t get it.”
“You don’t get much, do you,” said the angel. With that, she was gone.
In the morning tents were broken down, and after breakfast the party set out on foot, checking a GPS for the latitude & longitude provided by Wyclef. The supplies they brought were considerable, but no one asked questions when Lin-Manuel unexpectedly asked others to carry his share. Lin walked with his sister, Luz.
“What is the point of all this, Lin? Luz asked after a time. “Some guy sends a mysterious message out of the blue, and you drag us all to the middle of nowhere?”
“You know I like history. There’s history here, and we’re chasing it.”
“You’re not chasing anything limping like that,” Luz pointed out. What’s the problem?
“I am that I am,” began Lin.
“That’ll surprise no one,” said Luz, “but it doesn’t explain the limp.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda stopped, drew a deep breath and looked at his sister. “Look, if we’re talking 500 people, we need to get there and start the cooking fires. There needs to be plenty for everyone, and I’m off the pace this morning. Why don’t you and the others go ahead of me?” As she left, Lin-Manuel quietly finished his thought; “I am that I am is a bitch-and-a-half.”
By the time Lin-Manuel hobbled to the border, cooking was underway on both sides. Wyclef spotted him, raced to Lin and gave him a great hug. “Welcome, Brother!” he boomed, like he was James Earl Jones, looking Lin square in the face, a hand on each of Lin’s triceps. “I’m so glad you are here,” he then breathed in a gentler tone.
Lin was relieved at the warm welcome; so relieved that his knees nearly buckled as tension in his body gave way. He recognized, at that moment, that while he had been putting on a brave face, he had been scared. Initiating a second embrace, he hugged Wyclef. As he stepped back, his bad leg nearly gave way. Wyclef held him up, then came alongside him, under his arm. “What is wrong?” asked Wyclef as an involuntary tear ran down Lin’s face. “Are you hurt?”
“Everyone wants something from me, Wyclef,” said Lin-Manuel with honest emotion. “But in your case, could be I owe you. I was listening to The Fugees as I got started.”
“Pffff, there’s a lot of history, brother,” said Wyclef, gesturing dismissively with his one free hand. After carefully sitting on mossy rocks, Wyclef continued in a quiet, personal tone. “Look where we’re sitting. You’re always trying to connect shit back to the Caribbean. The American Revolution wasn’t the only one, you know.”
“I know, I know.” But even as he said it, he recalled the angel’s words: ‘You don’t know much, do you.’
“Yeah, this place has a history,” said Wyclef. It could have a future, too. “What’cha gonna do when you get to Zion, Mr. Israel?” asked Wyclef.
“How’d you know about that?”
“Word travels fast on this island. You must be hungry.” Wyclef gestured, and like the Red Sea converging after earlier being parted, the two entourages converged bearing plates of food for one-another with joyous greetings.
When the two realized they were on the Haitian side of the border, Lin asked Wyclef to eat with him. The two crossed the few steps back to D.R. “Are we supposed to do this?” Lin asked.
“Not everyone can, brother,” said Wyclef, “but you and I, we got the passports.”