About 17 years ago (June 13, 1993), my Daddy left this earthly life. Each year at this time I write about him and one or more of the qualities that made him the kind of man I want to write about 17 years after his death. This year, it’s idealism.
His idealism was best understood through the words of his favorite song, The Impossible Dream from his favorite story, Man of LaMancha. He first introduced it to me via the soundtrack recording on eight-track tapes on the way to our farm just outside the Jonesboro city limits.
At the time, I was too young to fully grasp the meaning, but I listened carefully and learned the words because I knew that for Daddy to let me listen to music that contained the words hell and whore, it must be very special.
Based on a book by Dale Wasserman, the play is about Miguel de Cervantes, an imprisoned novelist who defends himself by staging a play. The central character in the play is a country squire named Alonso Quijana, who might have rightly been called an early social justice advocate. His despair about oppression and evil in the world drives him to madness and in his mind he becomes Don Quixote of La Mancha, who fights to rectify society’s wrongs and bring about justice.
After losing a battle with a windmill, which he sees as a four-armed giant, he attributes his inability to conquer to the fact that he has never been properly dubbed a knight. As Don Quixote, he sets out with his servant, Sancho, on a journey in search of glory and knighthood so that he can fulfill his quest to conquer injustice. Along the way he finds himself at a small inn, in his eyes a castle. Here he encounters a band of rough, drunken men and several prostitutes, one of whom he comes to adore and admire as the fair maiden he see when he looks at her. The woman, Aldonza, is initially cynical but is won over as he sings to her of The Impossible Dream and joins him in his quest. (Read a full synopsis of the play here.)
Regardless of the writer’s intention, the message of the story communicated to me by my Dad was the beauty that Quixote sees in ordinary things and people devalued by society, the importance of fighting for truth and justice even when it seems impossible, and the idea that we are each called to do, sacrificially, what we can to improve the lives of others.
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go …
And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star.
— Lyrics by Joe Darion, full lyrics here
And he did.