Today, I finally found out who I am. This is who I have always been and will always be until I die. This is not who I wish to be. It’s deeper than wishing. It’s solid fact, unchangeable as the sun at its zenith. I am Don Quixote.
Don’t believe me? You don’t have to.
Now, in my youth, I was part of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval re-enactment club that celebrated chivalry and honor above all else. I was part of that world for a long time and even met my wife in it. In that society, we would say to one another that we were “in service to the dream,” and we meant it. It was to be an apprenticeship of sorts, and although I haven’t been to a tournament in over a decade, the lessons I learned back then still can be read deep within my constitution.
Like me, the fictional Spanish Lord was steeped in the ancient lore of heroes whose courage and tenacity in the face of adversity was charged with pure intent and noble purpose. And like me, Don Quixote was never a proper knight. No king or queen of any kingdom ever touched his shoulders with a sword save the principality that was mapped within his own heart.
Once Don Quixote discovered who he truly was, he embarked on a great quest to right the wrongs of the world and do all the good he could for the very sake of doing good by itself. And in this quest, Don Quixote failed. He encountered no real dragons or giants, but famously attacked windmills in his delusions. He was laughed at and misunderstood by many along his journey, and he did not accomplish much in the way of the world.
And I also have also failed in many of my lifelong quests.
However, Don Quixote also succeeded beyond the limits of even his shining vision. He changed not the outer material world but the inner soul of the world itself. The light of his sincere folly has thus shined since his tale was first published in 1602 as an example and inspiration to us all. He showed us that people can be more than the limits of their worldly power and aspire to a greatness that no one can truly achieve. Not bad for a fictional character, eh?
I am the correctional officer who dreams of being a successful novelist. I am the local political activist with a laptop who toils to shake the foundations of unchecked privilege in a corrupt and jaded nation. I am the father who wades into the sea and orders to waves to stop splashing upon his children. I am the cancer patient who tells the disease it will not have me without a fight. And I am the husband who never has nor ever will give up on his wife.
And still, I have failed many times in this material realm and expect to fail again.
Will I be remembered as Don Q has been? No. Once those who know me are gone I expect no legacy. Which, I suppose, makes my struggles all the nobler and all the less notable simultaneously. Should I care for such enduring recognition from posterity? Not one whit. For I am the man from La Mancha, and I am not the first nor the last of my kind.
The fight is noble as long as the purpose is noble and the warrior never gives up. Failure is often inevitable, but failure is also completely irrelevant to a Quixote! Success is measured not in the winning but in the striving. And the striving serves as a beacon to others to seek what is worthy and good within the human soul.
I am Don Quixote, but I am not the only one. And I salute all my fellow knights who brandish their broadswords, scimitars, katanas, and pocket knives in the cause of right all around this wicked world.
Clayton J. Callahan