Heavenly Do-Over Duel
Circumstance, coincidence, and fate always play a role. If King George hadn’t been quite so greedy, if the first shot had not been fired at Lexington Green, and if Alexander Hamilton had not married the daughter of Philip Schuyler, there might not have been a story. But these three stepping stones did fall into place to lead to the fateful events of July 11, 1804 in Weehawken, New Jersey, and the additional extraordinary events that followed.
Hamilton and Aaron Burr had been political rivals, but the competition turned to serious animosity over correspondence and messaging relating to Schuyler’s run for Governor of New York after the colonies broke free of King George’s grip. It was a time when men were perhaps a bit too zealous over matters of honor, and a Hamilton insult drew a challenge to a duel from the aggrieved Burr. Accounts of the incident vary, but the consensus opinion is that Hamilton “wasted” his shot by firing into the air, while Burr went for the jugular, actually Hamilton’s stomach, and our first Treasury Secretary died from his wound the next day. The earthly events thus concluded, but more, much more, was to follow.
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door.
“Who is it?”
“I’m Alexander Hamilton…and I’m not quite sure where I am.”
The whispy clouds, the harps playing in the distance, and the strange feeling of total relaxation were unfamiliar to Hamilton.
“Hamilton…Alexander…yep, got you on my list. You’re in the right place. Come on in. Take your shoes off.”
“What list? What’s the right place?”
“The ultimate ‘Naughty or Nice’ list. You’ve made it to Heaven. Good job.”
“Heaven?! Oh my goodness, does that mean I’m dead?”
“Pretty much. We don’t take anyone who’s not dead yet. And of course, you have to have the right resume. Be happy you’re here. The other accommodation is pretty grim.”
“And who are you?”
“St. Peter, Heaven’s Gatekeeper.”
Bliss, happiness, and total comfort. It was all an earthling could hope for.
Time passed, immeasurable in Heaven, 32 years on Earth. Every day for Hamilton was better than the day before. He fit in well with all the other Heavenly bodies, from the faithful departed to all ranks of angels. He wanted for nothing, had no worries, and basked in the warmth of total contentment every moment, and then…
New Souls Day is a big event in Heaven. It is the only thing that varies in the existence of all the residents, so it always draws a lot of interest. On this day, Hamilton arrived late at the Gates so he had to peer over the shoulders of many others to check out the new arrivals. It was perhaps the first moment of anger seen in Heaven since Lucifer was sent packing.
Hamilton couldn’t believe his eyes. It didn’t seem possible. Third in line waiting to be greeted by St. Peter was the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth, the wretched creature who tormented him for years, the man he let live and who then gunned him down- Aaron Burr.
Heaven had never seen such behavior. Hamilton exploded in rage.
“Aaron Burr?! You have to freaking be kidding me! What the hell is going on here?!”
Hamilton pressed his way through the group of stunned observers and made it to St. Peter’s side.
“Peter, we’ve got a problem. See the dopey-looking guy with the receding hairline with the stupid look on his face in the brown jacket?”
“I think I know who you mean. What about him, Alex?”
“That’s Aaron Burr!”
“So, that’s the son-of-a-bitch who shot me! You can’t let him in here. This has to be a mistake.”
“Hamilton, knock it off with the language! That’s worse than swearing in church!”
“The guy is a vile piece of sh…I mean, he’s evil, he’s a horrible person, he’s…”
“Hold on, Hamilton, it’ll all be in the book. I have to go by the book.”
“Fine, look at your book. You’ll see.”
“Yes, it’s here. I guess he did some inappropriate things early in his life.”
“Inappropriate?! He freaking murdered me!”
“But then he did some good things, he…”
“What?! Oh, my God, you’ve got to be kidding me. Let’s have a little accountability here.”
“Sorry, Hamilton, we’re all about forgiveness here. He’s in.”
Scripture holds that one could not be unhappy in Heaven; Hamilton told us differently. He sulked, stewed, and fumed. He had led a good, solid life. Now, his nemesis, the despicable Burr, was enjoying the same status he had earned, that he deserved. It was all so unfair.
Heaven’s a big place (not as big as the alternative location), so Hamilton did his best to avoid interaction with the man he so despised. On those chance encounters, Burr didn’t make it any easier.
“Hey, Alex, you should have checked the sights on your gun! Ha, ha, ha!”
“Hey, Alex, I hear you had a tummy ache after our duel! Ha, ha, ha!”
Violence and other hostile acts are not permitted in heaven, so Hamilton just had to grin and bear it. Friction and ill will are quite uncommon in Heaven, so it wasn’t long before Hamilton’s bitterness was noticed. Soon it was the talk of the town.
“What’s up with Hamilton?”
“The guy’s got a bug up his butt.”
“He might be the first one since Beelzebub to have a problem in this place.”
Ever since that very first day, St. Peter had taken a liking to Hamilton, and he understood how he could have a problem with Burr, seeing as how he murdered him and all. He would try to help his friend.
“You’ve got to let it go, man. This bitterness is tearing you up.”
“I know. I guess it’s just the guy is such a jerk. This morning he said I couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn if I was standing inside of it.”
St. Peter couldn’t hang on to a slight giggle.
“Not funny, Peter.”
“Sorry. Listen, I think you need an intervention. I’ll talk to St.Philip Neri.”
“Philip Neri. He’s the Patron Saint of Friendship. I think he can help you out.”
“Philip Neri? Never heard of him. I’m pretty far gone. Shouldn’t you bring in one of the big guns, like John or Matthew?”
“It’s called specialization, Hamilton. It’s what we Saintly types do.”
“Ok, but I don’t need to be friends with the guy. I just want to stop hating him so much that I can’t sleep.”
“Are you comfortable on the sofa?”
“Yes, St. Neri. It’s quite nice.”
“Would you like another pillow, Hamilton?”
“No, I’m good.”
“And what troubles you, my son?”
“Aaron Burr. It’s all him. He’s my only problem. I hate him”
“And why do you hate this Aaron Burr?”
“He killed me once.”
“I see. And would you like to do to this Aaron Burr?”
“I’d like to kill him, you know, an eye for an eye. You should be all in with that.”
“You do understand that’s not possible. I mean, everyone here is dead already. Besides, that wouldn’t fit in real well with one of our basic tenets.”
“Love thy neighbor. Do you see the contradiction?”
“I guess. Could I just bust him up a little?”
“No. I think we need to take this in a whole different direction, a higher road. Love and forgiveness will conquer hate and revenge.”
“I understand it may not be as much fun for you, but the healing will be more complete.”
“I’m not really looking for healing. I just want to get the SOB.”
“Hamilton, you’re in Heaven now. Can’t you let go of the things that happened on earth?”
“Maybe I could, but that jerk keeps bringing it up. First, he killed me back on earth, and now he mocks me about it.”
“And how does that make you feel, Hamilton?”
“Angry, very angry. I’d like to…”
“Sorry, time’s up. We’ll have to continue this tomorrow. Don’t do anything stupid.”
“How’s my boy doing, Phil? Making any progress?”
“He’s a tough nut to crack, Pete. The hostility is deep-seated. I’ve never had a case this difficult. Hamilton doesn’t carry a grudge; the grudge carries him. It defines him.”
“I guess I can understand it. I’d be upset too if someone took me out with a cheap shot. It doesn’t help that Burr keeps rubbing it in. He’s a tease machine, and there are some things you just don’t joke about.”
“Yeah, it keeps the whole thing fresh in his mind.”
“Let’s think outside the box. How about you bring Burr in for a little behavior modification?”
“I’m on it.”
“So, Aaron, I think it would be a good idea if you just backed off a little bit, you know, give the poor guy a little space.”
“I’ll try, St. Neri, but the guy is such an easy target…no pun intended. I mean he shot his gun in the air in a dual. Who does that? It would be like a gladiator holding the wrong end of his sword or David signing a ‘No Sling and Stone’ pledge before his match with Goliath. It’s pretty hard to resist.”
“I understand. I’m just asking you to try. Be a gracious winner, the better man, reach out to him, maybe have him over for a couple of glasses of wine.”
“I’ll give it a shot…oops, poor choice of words.”
A zebra doesn’t change its stripes. The next day Burr approached Hamilton and apologized for shooting him and for all the teasing. He extended his hand in peace, but Hamilton only got a nasty jolt from Burr’s cleverly concealed gag hand buzzer. Hamilton was humiliated as all who witnessed the event enjoyed a good laugh. Two days later Burr apologized for the fake apology and patted Hamilton on the back, leaving a hastily prepared ‘Kick Me’ sign for all to see. Hamilton’s hatred for the man soared.
The torment persisted. Burr was relentless in his pursuit of a good laugh at the expense of his former adversary. Soon others hopped on the bandwagon and joined in the ribbing. Hurtful nicknames were hurled at Hamilton as he passed by- ‘Dead-eye’, ‘Botched Shot’, ‘Crack Shot’, and the particularly hurtful ‘Air Gun’.
“I about can’t take it anymore, Peter. He’s made me the laughingstock of the whole place. I almost wish I would have gone to that other spot.”
“No, you wouldn’t want that, Hamilton.”
“Man. I wish I had that shot back. If I had it to do over, I’d put one right between his eyes.”
St. Peter was thinking…and thinking…and thinking.
“To do over…a do-over. Do the duel again. Give you the chance to take that shot.”
“I wish. Too bad that can’t happen.”
“Why not? Maybe that’s what you need to put this behind you, a do-over.”
“Is that possible?”
“I don’t see why not. I think we could put you two back in human form just for the day. It’s been done before you know. This is the land of miracles. I’ll see what I can do.”
Rumors ran rampant. Word of a possible Hamilton-Burr rematch raced through the utopian skies like wildfire. Finally, the word came down from on high; it was on.
Heaven had not known such excitement since the Rebellion. Bets were laid, sides were taken, and insults and boasts were exchanged. Heaven was in a tizzy as all looked forward to the duel re-do, that is, all save one- Aaron Burr.
“What?! A re-do?! No way! I won that duel fair and square. Re-do my butt!”
But he had no say in the matter. The ‘Powers-That-Be’ reviewed the entire matter and concluded that Hamilton had in fact “wasted” his shot. He had committed a heroic, noble act, and considering how the whole scene played out, Hamilton was now deserving of a chance to take that shot in earnest. Burr had already taken his shot, so only Hamilton’s pistol would be loaded.
Burr was livid. He was marked to be a participant in a duel with an empty gun.
“This can’t be! Whoever heard of such a thing? I’m taking this to the top!”
Burr exhausted all appeals and the date for the duel was set. Hamilton was issued a dueling pistol and one bullet while Burr was issued a dueling pistol but no bullet. Betting lines shifted dramatically once it was known that Burr would not have a bullet in his pistol.
St. Philip Neri tried once more to appeal to Hamiton’s character and conscience.
“Alex, do you really think you will feel good about gunning down an unarmed man?”
The night before the duel Hamiton sat in his room holding his pistol close to his heart. In a fiendish act of near depravity, he caressed and kissed the bullet that would soon settle the score and set his mind free. He relished the thought of Burr lying on the ground writhing in pain before he expired. He could only hope the end would come slowly. A knock at the door snapped him out of his fanciful state.
“Burr! What are you doing here?!”
“I just wondered how you’re doing, Hamilton. And…here, I brought you some cookies.”
“Cookies! You think you can buy me off with a plateful of cookies?! What kind are they?”
“Chocolate chip. If I remember correctly, your favorite.”
With their years together in public life, Burr knew Hamilton was a pushover for chocolate chip cookies. That was the icebreaker. The closer would be a heartfelt emptying of his soul.
“Alex…that day, that horrible day… oh, how I wished I could have relived that day. So many sleepless nights over what happened. I let you fire the first shot. I knew that because you were such a good person you would fire your pistol into the air, and you did.”
Hamilton was studying the man, trying to understand the purpose of the late-night visit.
“And then my shot. I meant to fire wide. The sun was in my eyes, and the movement of your second distracted me. As I turned my body I was shocked when the pistol fired. My heart sank when you fell to the ground. It was an accident, Hamilton. It was an accident!”
Burr burst into tears.
“I just…I just wanted you to know. I lived with such terrible guilt. I am so sorry! I deserve whatever happens tomorrow.”
A shaking Burr slowly rose to his feet and spoke in a near whisper.
“Goodbye, my friend.”
And he was gone.
Heaven had never seen such a crowd. This was the most anticipated event in eons. The Heavenly architects had constructed a setting that closely replicated the original site up to and including a nearby river. Hamilton arrived with Peter serving as his second. Burr stood alone as everyone knew he had no bullet in his gun, and no one wanted to be on the side of the loser. St. Philip Neri sat off to the side, quietly praying for a miracle that would stop this violent act.
Hamilton carefully loaded his gun, ball and gunpowder, while a trembling Burr could only nervously fidget with the worthless piece of iron in his hand. Michael the Archangel lined the two combatants up back to back and called out the customary ten paces.
Hamilton agonized with every step. Revenge, sweet revenge, was just moments away, but nagging reservations were creeping in. This hardly seemed to be the type of thing one should be doing in Heaven… and Burr was unharmed…. and he thought of the tearful apology from his late-night visitor.
The moment of truth. Burr closed his eyes tight as Hamilton raised his pistol. He took aim at the center of Burr’s chest as his finger gently caressed the trigger. And then those better angels… Hamilton slowly, steadily raised his sights above the target as the puzzled crowd looked on. He pulled the trigger, and the bullet shot harmlessly into the air.
St. Philip Neri smiled broadly, the crowd let out a collective groan, and Burr did a quick body check to make certain he was unscathed. Hamilton dropped the pistol at his side, and Burr raised his head and looked at the man who had spared him a second time. Their eyes met, and they haltingly walked toward each other. The crowd was at first disappointed, but when they saw the former bitter enemies embrace in a dramatic bro-hug, they cheered wildly. Many wept openly.
Unfortunately, the reconciliation was short-lived. Burr’s smile grew…and grew…and grew. Finally, he was laughing- hysterical, knee-slapping laughter, and he delivered a shot more painful than the bullet fired in 1804. He pointed, not his pistol, but a finger at the bewildered Hamiton.
“Gottcha’ again, you fool! Ha, ha, ha! How could anyone be so stupid? Twice! Nice shot, Dead-eye! Ha, ha, ha!”
The crowd was frozen in confusion, but then a laugh, and then another. Soon the entire place was engulfed in cruel, uproarious laughter. Hamilton stood in complete shock, desperately trying to comprehend the moment. The laughter, the ridicule, and the anger stormed back in a flash. He immediately understood that he had again played the role of the fool, only this time with the misfortune of a greatly expanded audience.
Additional derogatory nicknames attached. Hamilton would have to endure the labels ‘Naïve Ninny’ and ‘Gullible Goof’ for an eternity while Burr basked in the glorious satisfaction of having once again inflicted irreparable damage on his lifelong, and then some, enemy.
Today Hamilton keeps to himself, shielding himself from the spotlight of scorn, humiliation, and ridicule. He sometimes worries that his misfortunes might someday be chronicled in a book or a movie..perhaps even a play.