Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Tilting at Windmills and Giants

Don's Giant
Most of us know the story of Don Quixote. Alonso, inspired by the knights of old and chivalry, loses his mind and decides he is going to become Don Quixote and undo wrongs and fight for justice as a romantic knight with the aid of a simple farmer named Sancho as his squire. In one famous scene he comes across a field of 30 or 40 windmills and believes them to be giants. Sancho tries to tell him that they are merely windmills, but Don sees what he wants to see and what he needs to see to avoid a helpless reality.

Who could blame Alonso/Don. In the stories we read heroes defeat evil, romance is real and true and problems are solved. We live in a world where people we love die. We live in a world where bad guys win. We live in a world where tests are positive and the true romance we dream of seems to be nothing more than a fairytale as we meet liars, cheaters and abusers who manipulate. 

When I was a minister I used to tilt windmills and I worked with a lot of people who ran aid organizations that tried to resolve a problem for others that they experienced. Many of us barely had a foot in reality. We were going to fight the giants we imagined because we could not face the realities that hurt us. 

I remember one man in particular who fought for children who had terminal illnesses. When I first met him I was inspired and loved working with him and bringing awareness. Then I began to see something else. He was not fighting for these families, he was fighting the impossible giant of death. I was not going to be his Sancho.

I looked at him one day and said,"I am so sorry that you lost your son. You have two daughters that barely know you. You have an ex wife who does not know why she is a widow to a living being. He's dead. He's been dead for 6 years now. It sucks, it's wrong. On the anniversary of his death they are alive right now and I just heard you snap at your little girl and you just snapped at me, one of your few friends. I'm not telling you to get over it. I'm telling you to face it. Mourn. Stop tilting at windmills, let the dead bury the dead and be a dad and a friend and embrace the life."

It was at that point he punched me. I continued since he was not very good at throwing a punch.

"You are not helping anyone other than yourself. If you don't think those other parents losing children do not see your anger and your focus, think again. If you do not think your daughters see it, think again. You are teaching them to deny death, to not mourn, to not face the pain and heal. I'm out."

We stopped speaking. About six months later I saw him at a shopping plaza with his girls and he was smiling. He stared at me for a few moments and then walked over to me with a sheepish grin. He told me that I was right and he went to a grief counselor. Then he looked at me and said one more thing.

"Don't punch me, Pat, but I'm not the only one tilting at windmills." He was right. It would take me a few years to figure that out.

Our lives feel helpless. The pain and the injustice around us hurt and there are no heroes righting the wrongs. Facing pain is hard. Facing loss is hard. Broken hearts suck. Admitting we cannot change things that happened to us and happens to others hurts.

We have to face them and deal with the world as it is. When we lose touch with reality and tilt at windmills, we miss the beauty that is also in this world. That windmill has a field and lovely clouds and grass and beauty. The pain and the beauty are the reality. We have to accept it all. If we deny the pain, we will miss the beauty.

That is one beautiful windmill and I would rather not see a giant. Reality is painful, but it is also beautiful and there are those around us who need our presence and do not deserve our absence. 

Let the giants be and enjoy the windmill with someone. 

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