Of Dreams and Nightmares: Some Quijotes, Many Dulcineas

    Recently we embarked in a massive daydream of baseball games won which ended with nightmares of aspirations lost. Those feelings made me think of dreams. Ever since I was a child growing up in a country of Spanish traditions, the name of Don Quijote de la Mancha was very much a part of my literate world. Of course, the book, written by Don Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra, was no easy reading and it was not until I was in my teens that I had the time, patience, opportunity or school requirement to make me assimilate it.

   Historically, Cervantes had produced his masterpiece at a time when his world was fascinated by stories of sorcerers, dragons, and distressed damsels awaiting for the horse riding knights who would rescue them. That was the fictional side of existence of the times as much as soap operas are today. On a more realistic world, there were many wars, the ever-powerful Catholic Church was also having a field day with its Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition work, and the famous writer was no alien to that situation.

    Cervantes’ major goal was to write a story of knights to end all knight stories, and it is possibly true that he reached that goal. However, he reached beyond that purpose and accomplished a true human feat explaining what life was and is all about. In his work, lost in the words of the quixotic story and the activities of a man gone insane, there are other messages either implicit or explicit. Of course, there is the well-known dichotomy between the fantasy of the dreamer and the practicality of his much realistic partner Sancho Panza. Therein lays a sensitive comparison and description of human nature that serves us to this day. In addition, it took me several years of living before I could truly comprehend its greater meaning. Surely, I had understood the metaphor intellectually, but the true emotional dimension of a message of hope and human possibilities of this classic work is so important that is worth revisiting.

    In one of the shelves that crowd my college office there is a six-inch statue of a very solemn Don Quijote standing with a long spear in his hand. Close by there is a smaller but fatter and blander image of his ever present and loyal Sancho. Situated a bit back from both is a wood windmill that frames the relationship of both figures. I obtained all of them from a small gift store situated in one of the centuries-old side streets that lead to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Of course, the allegory about life is evident in those figurines, and I find great pleasure in watching them when I face a routine enigma.

    Many of us are dreamers and visionaries of some kind; which means that we carry within ourselves a gene of quixotic and idealistic nature. Mixed there somewhere in our souls and minds is also the practical reality that prudence or experience provides as an antidote to unbridled idealism in our chase of the windmills of life. Sad indeed is the person who lacks the ability to dream, imprudent those who cannot tell the difference between that dream and a nightmare. Therefore, you and I possess a combination of Don Quijote and Sancho and spend many days or nights trying to sort and balance them out.

    One of the most interesting characters of the famous Cervantes novel is the woman upon whom Don Quijote placed his platonic love and dedication: Dulcinea Del Toboso. This name, borrowed from a person who lived in the real world of the madman before he embarked on his travails, was given by the famous warrior to a wayside tramp named Aldonza. This woman was no jewel, and was as tough giving as she was receiving the knocks of life, so it was not difficult to understand why she would not accept Don Quijote’s compliments without the suspicion supported by the frustrations and disappointments of her daily life.

    Of course, we know the end of the story. Like many of us, Aldonza grew fond of the person she knew she wasn’t but could be in the eyes of this brave knight, and that in itself is a great message from this classic book that was originally intended to be about sorcerers and windmills alone. We can be something bigger than what we are if someone believes so. It may be someone else who does, but it is not until we believe it ourselves in mind and heart that the dream of a better we becomes a reality.

    In my life, I have met many Aldonzas. I am sure some of you have, and the name does not purport to be only feminine. It may be an Aldonzo as well for others. Some deserved to become full-fledged Dulcineas, others didn’t, but it was not because we were wrong in seeing the potential in them; it was because they did not believe in it themselves that they remained Aldonzas/zos for life. However, that is no reason to give up. Somewhere in there, at the turn of the road, there may lay another Aldonza ready to spring up, be and develop into a Dulcinea Del Toboso. You just have to look and expect to be surprised by them. Be a dreamer!

    Dr. Paul V. Montesino, solely responsible for this article, teaches in the Computer Information Systems Department at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts.

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