I recently found a website that inspired me through music to write this.
Six hundred and eleven years ago, Miguel de Cervantes wrote a story about a middle-aged man who dreams up a romantic, ideal world, and believes, against all reason, that it exists. He leaves his village in La Mancha on a quest to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and bring justice to the world, under the name Don Quixote. But the giant battles he faces are windmills, the damsel he covets is a peasant girl, and he dies disillusioned, in a real world where nothing has changed.
Cervantes was no stranger to that real world. He had been a soldier, and had fought bravely and been wounded in the Battle of Lepanto. Captured by the Turks and imprisoned for five years, he then served as a commissary for the Spanish Armada, where the corruption of others landed him in prison again. Still, this was a man who wrote: “To change the world, my friend Sancho, is not madness nor utopia. It’s justice.”
Cervantes died on the 22nd of April, 1616, not knowing that he had created the best literary work ever written, the world’s first best seller. Yet during his lifetime he was not able to support himself through his writing. Don Quixote would later be translated into almost every language, be retold in plays, operas, ballets, and movies, and inspire such greats as Gustave Flaubert, Alexander Dumas, Henry Fielding, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Felix Mendelssohn, George Balanchine, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso.
Quixotism is the impractical pursuit of ideals. It is tilting at windmills, chasing the romantically absurd.
The journey from injustice remains, and is far from over. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Sometimes it does feel like we are just tilting at windmills. But we still read Don Quixote, the story of a man who chased his ideals across the Spanish countryside. We read it hoping that this time around he actually finds them. Hoping he vanquishes those windmills. Hoping he does not give up. And that we too must never stop.