Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tilting at Windmills

I have always been drawn to the melancholy. The stark scenes from the westerns where the hero rides slowly against the empty and barren landscape. The warrior poets who understand that their lot in life is not one for enjoyment, but to withstand through sheer force of character. But deep down they know what they are missing and have consciously chosen the harder road simply because they are built that way. And someone must bear the burden.

I wonder at times what happens when they realize that they have borne these struggles wrongly. That their raison d'etre was misguided or just plain wrong. In the movies there is good and there is evil and they rarely mix. Perhaps once in a great while will the good guy turn out to be bad, or more often the bad guy will turn out to be good. These are themes that we are all familiar with. But rarely do we understand the good AND bad in a single character.

For it is within us all. The gray mixture of lust and honor. Or anger and pity. Of self indulgence and empathy. Beyond the walls of fiction is the constant moral wave that ebbs and flows inside of us. These are the what-ifs... what would I do IF. Would you kill to protect your children? Would you give up your morals for a million dollars? Ten million? Would you risk alienating friends and family for an bacchanalian evening?

But the what if moments are rare. More often the lines are not hard and fast but blurry patches when empathy gets lost, and our own needs or frustrations get in the way.

I was born with a hard wired empathy gene. My default is to attempt to understand the needs of others, sometimes to the detriment of my own. When I was young this seemed an honorable way to live and I felt that I made a difference in the lives of those around me. As I have aged, the chronic skepticism has grown like moss on me and made me doubt that anything makes too profound of a difference. And that I kid myself with my own abilities to influence. It is ego speaking, I tell myself. Perhaps this is a thing learned as we age. That we can't fix the world.

And so we stop trying.

And then what is life for if we have stopped trying. And when does the fixer get fixed?

Perhaps the archetypes or imagery that draw me in is simply a reflection... the mirror of a life spent tilting at windmills. And that feeling I have is just the sudden and daunting realization that these structures are not evil knights for us to vanquish, but simply harmless wooden buildings.

Or perhaps, like Don Quixote, I'm just near sighted.


  1. I've always liked this concept of tilting at windmills. Probably because I do it so much and so often. I'm surprised my arms haven't turned into windmills from all tilting at windmills they've done.

  2. In concept it is endearing. But my arms are tired.

  3. I have been windmilling at windmills for as long as I remember. It is so fitting that you write this. I am trying to learn that love and simple bliss are not shallow, not if they spring forth from keen awareness and compassion. Under those circumstances I think they just might change the world.

    Why is it sometimes so difficult to stop a pointless fight?

  4. A couple of years ago, a man I loved died of a drug overdose. In most of the relationship, I tried to help him overcome his addictions. When gentle encouragement did not work, I tried tough love. Shortly after that, he passed away.

    I am more cautious now. Cynicism would be an easy choice, perhaps one that I choose more than I should. But still, I care. I don't want to give up on anyone, even if my efforts are a complete waste.


  5. @ Kate- I've been pointlessly fighting for way too long. I can't even remember what the fight was about.

    @ Happy- I am glad that you still feel this way. I believe it is the only way to live.

  6. i've always loved the story of Don Quixote, even when i read it as a child. there is a valor and noble spirit about it, even when it is very easy to be a cynic. my mom said that one of my greatest gifts is the ability to see all sides and trying to make the peace with it. it's tiring at times. i'm sure much like your empathy and caring. but i tell myself endlessly, i would rather be this way than bitter and used up.

  7. I agree with Char and Megan, but my arms are tired too.

  8. Where are you? You need to write again. It's been too long. :)

    Hope all is well. Sending good thoughts your way.

  9. Your reflexions so resonate with me.
    Maybe, however, as we age we "fix less" and "love more." Your blog is a treasure of ideas. Thanks for this windmill post.
    Greetings from Astorga, Spain