A plea to girls and women everywhere – Inspired by The Man of La Mancha

IMG_1638_Red“May I set the stage?”

I probably have alluded this before, but it came to mind recently. In case it’s interesting, I was doing my lap-swimming in the pool a few days ago, and I had decided listen to The Man of La Mancha while I was swimming (can I just point out that waterproof mp3 players are an awesome idea?).

Anyway, in case you don’t know that show, it’s the musical theater adaptation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. In it, a near senile old man, Alonso Quijana, gets it into his head that he is a knight of old, and he will “sally forth into the world righting all wrongs.” Here’s the song where he introduces himself if you are interested.

I, Don Quixote Lyrics

May I set the stage? I shall impersonate a man.
Come, enter into my imagination and see him!
His name… Alonso Quijana… a country squire,
no longer young… bony, hollow-faced… eyes
that burn with the fire of inner vision. Being
retired, he has much time for books. He studies
them from morn to night and often through the
night as well. And all he reads oppresses him…
fills him with indignation at man’s murderous
ways toward man. And he conceives the strangest
project ever imagined… to become a knight-errant
and sally forth into the world to right all
wrongs. No longer shall he be plain Alonso Quijana…
but a dauntless knight known as –
Don Quixote de La Mancha!

Hear me now
Oh thou bleak and unbearable world,
Thou art base and debauched as can be;
And a knight with his banners all bravely unfurled
Now hurls down his gauntlet to thee!
I am I, Don Quixote,
The Lord of La Mancha,
My destiny calls and I go,
And the wild winds of fortune
Will carry me onward,
Oh whithersoever they blow.
Whithersoever they blow,
Onward to glory I go!

I’m Sancho! Yes, I’m Sancho!
I’ll follow my master till the end.
I’ll tell all the world proudly
I’m his squire! I’m his friend!

Hear me, heathens and wizards
And serpents of sin!
All your dastardly doings are past,
For a holy endeavor is now to begin
And virtue shall triumph at last!

(Don Quixote and Sancho Panza mount their horses and set out along a road)

I am I, Don Quixote,
The Lord of la Mancha,
My destiny calls and I go,
And the wild winds of fortune
Will carry me onward,
Oh whithersoever they blow!
I’m Sancho! Yes, I’m Sancho!
I’ll follow my master till the end.
I’ll tell all the world proudly
I’m his squire! I’m his friend!

Whithersoever they blow,
Onward to glory I {we} go!

During his mis-adventures (in Sancho’s eyes), he meets a prostitute at an inn, and sees her not as Aldonza the prostitute, but rather as a beautiful lady of the court. At one point in the show, when she is trying to convince him that she deserves no special love – because she has never known such love, she angrily shouts at Don Quixote “Take the clouds from your eyes and see me as I really am!” Quixote’s response, even though it is meant to be put on the lips of a madman, is “Now and forever, thou art my lady Dulcinea!” Here’s that song:

Aldonza Lyrics

My lady…

I am not your lady!…
I am not any kind of a lady!
I was spawned in a ditch
By a mother who left me there,
Naked and cold and too hungry to cry;
I never blamed her.
I’m sure she left hoping
That I’d have the good sense to die!
Then, of course, there’s my father…
I’m told that young ladies
Can point to their fathers
With maidenly pride;
Mine was some regiment
Here for an hour,
I can’t even tell you which side!
So of course I became,
As befitted my delicate birth,
The most casual bride
Of the murdering scum of the earth!

And still thou art my lady.

And still he torments me!
How should I be a lady?
For a lady has modest and maidenly airs,
And a virtue I somehow suspect that I lack;
It’s hard to remember these maidenly airs
In a stable laid flat on your back!
Won’t you look at me, look at me,
God, won’t you look at me!
Look at the kitchen sl*t reeking with sweat!
Born on a dung heap to die on a dung heap,
A strumpet men use and forget!
If you feel that you see me
Not quite at my virginal best,
Cross my palm with a coin,
And I’ll willingly show you the rest!

Never deny thou art Dulcinea.

Take the clouds from your eyes
and see me as I really am!

You have shown me the sky,
But what good is the sky
To a creature who’ll never
Do better than crawl?

Of all the cruel bastards
Who’ve badgered and battered me,
You are the cruelest of all!
Can’t you see what your gentle
Insanities do to me?
Rob me of anger and give me despair! Blows and abuse
I can take and give back again,
Tenderness I cannot bear!
So please torture me now
With your “Sweet Dulcineas” no more!
I am no one! I’m nothing!
I’m only Aldonza the whore!

Now and forever thou art my lady Dulcinea!
(Aldonza screams in despair and collapses.
As Don Quixote lies in bed dying, his mind
“retreats to some secret place.” )

Now, I admit I haven’t read the entire book that Cervantes created (I plan to read it one day), but from what I’ve read, it’s difficult to read Alonso Quijana as anything but senile and nearly mad. In the musical, the same is implied, but it’s not as absolute. I have often wondered, however, if, in his madness, Quijana (or Quixote) is often wiser than many of us. There is a part of him that I see that isn’t mad, but rather he is rejecting some of the more base and vile aspects of the world of his time – a world which, in many ways and to my great dismay, we have inherited and have so far failed to recover for the good.

I spent many years before I arrived in seminary working with youth ministry and teenagers. I have spent my time while I’ve been in seminary both observing and reflecting on the world in which our modern young people live. I have known more than I care to admit young ladies who are mistreated or otherwise taken advantage of by boys or the world in which they find themselves. So often, I see in their eyes, their actions, and their words that same frustrated call that is on the lips of Aldonza/Dulcinea: “Take the clouds from your eyes and see me as I really am!” Unfortunately, they are not calling the world around them to see the dignity they possess, but they are rejecting any belief that they are worthy of such love and dignity, either because they have been told so or treated such that they cannot believe it. Each and every time, it breaks my heart. No one should have to live with such an opinion of who they are. But too many in the world today do live with it.

I would like to offer a redeeming reading of those two lines by pulling them out of the play and the actual context in which they are said. I would like to (with a small adjustment) put both lines on the lips of our God.

 Take the clouds from your eyes and see yourself as you really are! Now and forever, thou art my beloved child, [insert your name here]!

Allow me to share for a moment. I have known a few people close to me who have been the victims of rape or abuse. It has been painful to watch people I love suffer through something like that; with each one, I suffer with them, albeit in a very different way. Nearly every time there is something that snaps when such a monstrous act happens. Their emotions try to cope. They dive into a dualist understanding of who they are. Often, I watch these beautiful and strong persons fall into a belief that they are now damaged. Like Aldonza, they think of themselves as the dirty thing that someone enacted on them. With their words or their actions, they shout to the world, “I’m no one! I’m nothing! I am only Aldonza, the whore!” They do what they please with their bodies, they fall into acting out as they think they deserve. They fall into the enemy’s trap of using their bodies as a thing while they try desperately to guard their bruised and hurt souls.

Dualism has again taken over, and the body is treated as something we have instead of something we are. We must always remember that we are not a body with a soul. We are not a soul with a body. We are a soul and a body.

I have watched as some of these girls give themselves up to each and every man who comes along. Some sell themselves in pornography or prostitution. In all of these, I believe that one of the most important underlying challenges is each of those persons – through struggle, prayer, support, true love, and the Grace of God – comes to see that the evil done to them does not truly damage them. They can then pull their image of body and soul back together into one. No longer do they need to be separated in self defense, but they can see themselves again as Dulcinea rather than Aldonza.

As Pope John Paul II repeatedly pointed out, the problem with pornography, prostitution, and the vices of their ilk is not that they are showing too much; it is rather that they show too little. They are putting on display the sacrament of their bodies, and exposing all of themselves physically. But they are forced to withhold their soul that is meant to be given as part of such intimate expressions. The body becomes a thing that can do whatever, and the soul is tucked away for safekeeping; it is the only safe action. But we are all created to give ourselves as a true gift. That gift can only be given if our body and soul go together when the time for such expression of the self happens.

But, for that to be possible, ladies, gentlemen, girls, boys, women, men, we have to reject the dualism that the world so often encourages. We have to abandon the separation of mind and body that we have embraced to protect ourselves, even if it requires (as it so often does) the help of a professional. We have to again see dignity and beauty in ourselves, both our bodies and our souls, together and inextricable. Only then, can we make a full gift of ourselves as God intended us to make, whether to another person or to the Church and the people of God (as in my case).

An open letter to…Everyone

Dear girls, women, young ladies, and any others who may need this message (I suspect even many boys and men) :

God is calling out to you: “Take the clouds from your eyes and see yourself as you really are! Now and forever, thou art my beloved child [insert your name here]!”

You, me, and everyone you meet was created in the image and likeness of God. We are, no matter what we pretend or feel, a beloved “child of the One True King” (to use a line from Matthew West). I realize it is perhaps the easiest thing in the entire world to forget that. It is possible to read the miserable or evil actions of other people into our own self image, and we see ourselves as somehow defiled or not good enough or no good at all. We live that belief in ourselves, and we make that belief ever more true as we act based on it.

If you haven’t been told recently, this is not true. There is nothing that you have done or that has been done to you that would make this in any way true. God is waiting for your return. Patiently and lovingly looking for you to turn your gaze to him, to remember the love he still holds for you, the value that you still possess solely because you are His child, not because of anything you did or suffered.

Don’t ever fall into the trap of defining yourself by what you do or by what is done to you. You must always be defined only by who you are, God’s beloved child. Nothing will change that.

You are still loved.
You are still valuable.
You are still beautiful.
It’s never too late.

If there is someone in your life who treats you or tells you otherwise, it is not selfish or wrong to tell them that you deserve better and demand better. If they treat you like anything less than you are, there is nothing wrong with severing that relationship. Period.

Fr. Joe

P.S. Here are a few messages you might need or want to see. I will leave you with this.

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