I’ve always wondered how it felt to be Don Quixote. He was an elderly fellow—50-ish, considered old in his time—when his self-appointed adventures began. Deemed insane, foolish or both, this self-designated knight took on a series of causes that, in his mind, were necessary for the well-being of others. His self-image can serve as a warning for any of us who imagine the importance of our lives in the service of others.
Every so often, this matter rises to the top of my interior conversations. I have always had a strong sense of duty—sometimes feeling called to fulfill a difficult vocation or attracted to causes that begged for resolution. I don’t know that I’ve always considered the possibility that my own life quests were slightly reminiscent of windmill-tilting—whether they were futile from the get-go. Whether those around me have been less-than-favorably-affected by my insistence on righting some imagined wrong, or calling out some injustice. Whether any of these parts of my lifework have been more self-delusional than I have admitted.
The near-buffoonery of Cervantes’ quasi-hero warns especially well-intentioned people about over-reaching our sense of purpose and meaning. Whether he was dreaming impossible dreams or not, the Man from La Mancha reminds us not to over-value our imagined abilities to rescue or redeem people in difficult situations.
Yes, there is still a need for self-sacrifice in the face of rampant self-centeredness and almost-overwhelming human need. Redemption and rescue are still necessary, godly and effective, if only in small ways. We still benefit from the lives of anyone—at any age–who can inspire us to engage in selfless acts of service.
The middle ground for me here: Not to attack everything that I think is wrong—to measure out my life purpose in small, manageable deeds.
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