My most cherished book is “Don Quixote,” so much so I have Picasso’s painting of the Knight and his sidekick Sancho Panza, tattooed on my forearm.
The classic was written by a 16th century Spanish writer, Miguel Cervantes. His early career was rather checkered. Exiled from his beloved Spain, Cervantes worked in Rome as a Cardinal’s assistant. Having enlisted in the Spanish Navy, Cervantes was captured by Barbary Pirates. After his family paid a ransom, he was an accountant for the Spanish Armada. A “discrepancy in the books” caused him to be jailed for a time. After all of that he began writing. Who wouldn’t?
Cervantes’s timeless character, Don Quixote, became the most chivalrous of knights so that he could fearlessly tilt at windmills.
Don Quixote came to mind when Cheyenne’s Mayor and one of the city councilmen brought about the demise of a resolution declaring Cheyenne a Compassionate City. They were building windmills based on what they feared they saw in the shadows.
Another councilman knows the meaning of those shadows. Richard Johnson said, “We live in a city that is perpetually afraid of itself. We’re scared of our neighbors. We’re scared of each other. We’re scared of the outside world.”
Were it possible to speak across time to Señor Cervantes, I’d tell him how his writings prove that God inspired more than that one great book and how they inspired some to tilt at windmills.
Don Quixote’s story, like that of Jesus of Nazareth, demonstrates the risks of becoming compassionately unafraid in a world that distrusts the motives of those attempting to do good.
Literary critic Harold Bloom wrote an introduction to one English translation of the book, which has been translated into more languages than any other with the exception of the Bible. Bloom said, “We cannot know the object of Don Quixote’s quest unless we ourselves are Quixotic.” Irony begets irony in the story of humanity.
Thankfully, there are those in this age who find fulfillment and purpose in the compassionate work of tilting at windmills.
Just as Cervantes’s knight was inspired by reading books of chivalry, so it is that many of the Quixotics of our day are inspired by reading the Gospels. Don Quixote reminds them of Jesus who, upon completing his days of temptation in the desert, went about preaching good news to the poor and liberty to the oppressed.
And so, Don Quixote, having completed his preparations, writes Cervantes, “did not wish to wait any longer to put his thought into effect, impelled by the great need in the world that he believed was caused by his delay.”
Much of the pain and suffering in our world is likewise caused by our delay in serving others. As it is in our world, Don Quixote recognized that in his “the greatest adversary love has is hunger and continual need.”
The writer Thomas Oppong observed, “Over the course of our lives, we make millions and millions of decisions that are essentially bets, some large and some small.” Don Quixote placed his bets on doing good though his friends and family, like those of Jesus, thought he was without his wits for doing so. That is the risk we take when following our faith and placing our life’s bets on the words of the Gospel.
In Cheyenne, people of good faith placed their bets on encouraging compassion. They found some politicians were so uncomfortable with the idea that they began searching for ghosts lurking in the shadows. Thus, compassion itself became a windmill.
Alas, it was for Don Quixote, whom Cervantes wrote, “ventured for God and the world” in the face of those who could not “be made to understand the error” of their suspicions of that work though it was “founded on articles of faith.”
Compassion can be troubling, especially to those who build windmills. Yet, compassion means being thankful for the windmills and for those who fearlessly tilt at them always.