So last week Taproot Theatre opened Man of La Mancha. I get the privilege of singing “The Quest” or as it’s more popularly known, “The Impossible Dream.” While thrilled to have the opportunity to take on the role of Don Quixote, there is also something daunting about singing such a classic song. Fortunately, the song has a power all its own, and again, it’s an honor to get to ride inside that power for a bit.
But what about the truth of it? The age old argument is this: how should we see life? The character known as the Duke challenges Cervantes, declaring that men must come to terms with life–or to see it– “as it is.” Cervantes makes the argument for the idealist perspective, that we are better off when we see life “as it ought to be.”
Realism vs. Idealism. It is a classic face-off between rose-colored glasses and clear eyed trifocals. Isn’t the very notion of “impossible” dreams enough to tell you it’s just not smart to chase them? Doesn’t Proverbs 12:11 say “He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment?”
But if you look at the song a little more closely, one thing becomes apparent: the impossible dream is not the American Dream. Bigger houses, cars, and careers is not what Quixote is referring to. In our culture, the dreams we chase are dreams for ourselves. We dream of this achievement, that accomplishment, this lifestyle, that notoriety, most of them variations on a rags to riches story in which fame, power, and money are the unreachable stars we’re chasing. But of course, this is not what Don Quixote has in mind at all. For him, vanity, selfishness, self-protection, personal goal-setting…all of that is nothing. For the mad knight, the unreachable star is a world where the great wrongs are righted, where unbeatable foes can be beaten, where love is not perverse, brutal, and self-serving, but honorable, chaste (one of the more un-American words), and pure. The unreachable star is a way of being in the world, a way of serving and fighting evil, one that might even go “wherever the road may lead,” even if it leads into “hell, for a heavenly cause.”
There are thousands of variations on the theme of these kinds of impossible dreams. How many injustices can we name? How many poverties of body and spirit? How many distortions of God’s intent must be pushed back against, windmills or not? What a temptation to ride blithely past each of them, saying they are too big, too much, too entrenched, too powerful. But there is a strategic move that Quixote makes that makes a lot of sense; he simply takes on the next thing. The injustice he sees, he confronts. Reminds of me a bit of the day-to-day strategy of Jesus. “The enchanter may confuse the outcome, but the effort remains sublime.”
To which a brutalized Aldonza, replies, understandably, “Lies, all lies.”
Are we dreaming these kinds of impossible dreams today? Will we confront one before the day is over? Or do we functionally exist as if to do such chasing is madness? In a variation of one of my facebook friends status lines, do unbeatable foes and unrightable wrongs dread you waking up today?
The common, the epic…