There comes a turning point with every community, nation or civilization at which the status quo has to be re-imagined and reinvented. Some use the word precipice to define that moment, that point at which we as individuals and a society have to evolve for the better or condemn ourselves to a tumultuous and tense existence. It’s that defining moment when right stands up to all that is wrong, and when what is just stands its ground against all that is unjust. In those moments and with every generation comes an icon or figure willing to sacrifice all for the greater good of others—sacrifice all for that seemingly unattainable but righteous dream. Most do not live to see that dream come true: Martin Luther King Jr, John F. Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi and Harvey Milk. Others endure persecution and struggle but live long enough to witness it: Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez and Corazon Aquino. And some are dreamers and battle-scarred icons in the making: Malala Yousafzai and Evan Mawarire.
Long before I knew of the musical Man of La Mancha, I knew the song that defined it. My sister was a Luther Vandross fan; she knew the lyrics to every hit song and if singing out loud was not an option, she would hum every tune and melody as she floated across the house doing her chores. And that is how I was introduced to “The Impossible Dream”—the Luther Vandross rendition of it at least. And as I sit here flipping through the show’s script, two decades older, wiser and wearier of the world we live in, its meaning and power resonate with me now more than ever. The message in the lyrics can be summarized with the old adage: it’s better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all.
Don Quixote’s “Impossible Dream” is an open-throated proclamation about the importance of being brave and bold and standing for what is right regardless of the consequences. He sings, “It is the mission of each true knight to dream the impossible dream, to run where the brave dare not go, to right the unrightable wrong,” lyrics that seem to insist that he (we) has an obligation and responsibility to do so. And when he sings, “This is my quest, to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far, to fight for the right without question or pause,” he acknowledges how difficult and seemingly unattainable this dream is but still exhibits an unwavering and inspiring belief in staying the course because regardless of how big the sacrifice—even death—the cause is worth it.
From the inquisition to slavery, the Holocaust to the Civil Rights movement, human history has shown an existence fraught with turmoil. But even in those episodes of darkness, we remember those who chose to stand and fight for what was right when being silent would have been easier. And as we look at the struggles in the world today and the suffering and injustice that plagues it, we find that the dream Don Quixote and those icons we celebrate had remains the same—to make the world a fairer, happier and better place.
I think every one of us at some point in our lives wonders what our calling and purpose is. Especially in the times we’re in today: women’s rights, Islamophobia, social unrest etc. Are we destined for something greater than ourselves? Could we be doing more for the greater good of others? And will we give enough of ourselves or live long enough to make a difference? Don Quixote’s “Impossible Dream” answers some of those questions for us and more importantly, it serves as our conscience: “And I know if I’ll only be true, to this glorious quest, that my heart will lie peaceful and calm, when I’m laid to rest,” and our inspiration: “And the world will be better for this, that one man, scorned and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage, to reach the unreachable star.”
Sincerely, Kwapi Vengesayi