August 22, 2009
By Rev Ed Hird
As a child, I read a comic book version of Don Quixote, and concluded that he was a total fool to go chasing after windmills. Years later, I’ve observed that many of us as adults end up chasing after windmills in business, politics, relationships, or sports.
One of those windmills is twisting ourselves into a knot, trying to have the perfect marriage relationship. Anne Wilson Shaef, a well-known 12-Step writer, comments that relationships are always better in the abstract, and that reality is the stuff that ruins what dreams are made of. Her counsel is that when we let go of what marriage should be and let marriage be what it is, we can have a chance for marriage to be what it can be.
If you’ve never seen the award-winning Broadway musical and Hollywood movie Man of La Mancha, I recommend that you and your spouse rent or borrow it in the near future. There is something about those songs that stir me every time I hear them, especially To Dream the Impossible Dream, Dulcinea, and Aldonza.
Peter O’toole does a brilliant performance as Don Quixote, a skinny old gentleman with wispy white hair and a care-worn face, a seeming mad-man who dreams the impossible dream of restoring love and gallantry to everyday relationships. Sophia Loren memorably lives out the character of Aldonza, a sullen and abused kitchen-wench, who is transformed into Dulcinea by Quixote’s unfailing respect.
The so-called sexual revolution of the 1960’s was supposed to remove barriers that kept people from reaching their full potential. Instead it slowly eroded an appreciation for the sanctity of the marriage relationship, and often left women more vulnerable to abuse and abandonment.
Don Quixote symbolizes a recovery of chivalry and mutual respect in the male-female relationship. Upon encountering Aldonza, Don Quixote sings: “I have dreamed thee too long, never seen thee or touched thee but know thee with all of my heart. Half a prayer, half a song, thou has always been with me, though we have always been apart, Dulcinea…Dulcinea”. Don Quixote repeatedly speaks blessing into Aldonza’s life, calling her Dulcinea (meaning sweetness).
Despite her rejection of his love, Don Quixote still keeps speaking into her life with patience and gentleness. Again and again Quixote reaffirms that the male-female marriage relationship is far more than just physical: it is a spiritual reality, an experience of one flesh intimacy.
That is why Quixote, the Man of La Mancha, sings: “I see heaven when I see thee, and thy name is like a prayer an angel whispers, Dulcinea…I have sought thee, sung thee, dreamed thee, Dulcinea”. Because of how deeply Aldonza has been hurt by other men, it seems almost impossible that she could ever learn to trust again. She struggles between the fear that Don Quixote is just an old fool and the faint hope that he might indeed be her knight in shining armour.
At one point in the movie, Quixote’s relatives try to take him away from Aldonza, claiming that he is mad. The priest pauses and says: “One might say that Jesus was mad, or St. Francis.” In one sense, Don Quixote functions as a Christ-figure, one who gives his life for others, even though dismissed as insane by his own family (Mark 3:21). In another sense, Don Quixote symbolizes the faithful pilgrim, like Francis of Assisi, who saw so clearly through the hypocrisy of his age that he was rejected as a “fool for Christ”(1 Corinthians 4:10). Either way, Don Quixote reminds us as men that sometimes we have to humble ourselves and look foolish, if we really want our marriages to blossom.
Don Quixote was shameless in his affirming of Dulcinea. In response, she cynically said: “Your heart doesn’t know much about women”. Instead of giving up, Quixote gently responded: “Woman is the soul of man, the radiance that lights his way. Woman is glory”. Dulcinea was deeply afraid that he would just use her and discard her, like all the rest. She said to him: “What do you want of me?”
As a true errant knight, Quixote said: “I ask of my lady that I may be allowed to serve her, that I may hold her in my heart, that to her I may dedicate each victory and call upon her in defeat, and if at last I give my life, I give it in the sacred name of Dulcinea.”
Gradually Dulcinea melts in the face of Don Quixote’s gentleness and patience. She sings: “Can’t you see what your gentle insanities do to me? Rob me of anger and give me despair. Blows and abuse I can take and give back again, Tenderness I cannot bear.”
Tenderness is what we most need in our marriages today. Tenderness is what will heal the deepest wounds. Tenderness is a gift of love from the heart of Jesus himself. May Don Quixote’s gentle insanities give each of us hope for our marriages in the days and years ahead.