In the heart

Disney's "It's a Small World" features Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Walt Disney World, August 2003

Disney’s “It’s a Small World” features Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
Walt Disney World, August 2003

“Truth is not reflected in a mirror, but contained in the heart. It is often obscured by reality.”Alan A. Malizia

One year ago today, my post mentioned Don Quixote, a literary character I’ve been hearing about all of my life. Our father is a fan of Quixote, especially as brought to life in the musical Man of La Mancha, the soundtrack of which played in the background of my childhood more times than I could count. I’m grateful for its timeless messages of courage, honor, and the refusal to give in to despair.

Recently I came across a review of the Quixote story that makes an interesting point about the difference between truth and reality. I am re-blogging it here from Alan Malizia of  Contagious Optimism. I hope you will enjoy it, and remember its message the next time reality seems grim!

CONTAGIOUS OPTIMISM:Uplifting stories from around the globe.

Of Truth And Reality

March 16, 2014

Alonso Quixana (Don Quixote) is an aging gentleman who is enamored by and devours books about chivalry. He becomes so absorbed with the subject that he soon escapes reality as he fancies himself a knight, and travels about the countryside performing acts of imagined valor and good deeds. His world, as that of Cervantes, was anything but virtuous or chivalrous.

Quixana recruits a good-natured and keen-witted farmer, Sancho Panza, to be his squire (actually more of a protector), and onward they go. Windmills are seen as menacing giants to be vanquished, and ladies of the evening are seen as simply ladies, as beheld through the refined eyes of the brave and good knight. One woman in particular, Aldonza, he chastely adores. He chooses to call her by another name, Dulcinea, and envisions her his lady.

Of course the upright world, which he battles to uphold through his quests was at that time downright debased and debauched. However, Don Quixote saw it as it otherwise should be.Don Quixote’s virtuous behavior and insistence of compliance to the same, by those (often the dregs of society) whom he came upon, was first viewed as humorous and entertaining. But in time would become intrusive and threatening to their customary practices.

Yet his example, though a worldly contradiction to all, other than himself, began to have a converting effect. The prostitute Dulcinea began to see herself as a lady and act as such. And Sancho, who played along most unwillingly at first, became a dedicated and loyal companion with each new imaginary adventure.

Meanwhile, Alonso Quixana’s niece, being so embarrassed by his antics, feigns concern for his sanity and safety, and contrives a plan with the family doctor, Dr. Carrasco, to hopefully return him to his senses. Alonso (Don Quixote) is confronted by Dr. Carrasco, disguised as the Knight Of The Mirrors, and accompanied by compatriots dressed in armor and carrying reflecting shields. Dr. Carrasco challenges Don Quixote’s claim that his love, Dolcinea, is a lady. The doctor characterizes her as no more than an alley cat.

Don Quixote, angered beyond reason at this insult to his lady, takes up Carrasco’s gauntlet and is surrounded by those with mirrored shields. He is forced to see his image at every turn, which appears that of a madman. Reality strikes an overwhelming blow as the doctor’s disparaging and humiliating rants cut deep. Don Quixote falls to the ground after seeing the foolish dreamer that he is perceived to be. The plan succeeds because he returns to reality. For better or worse?

The mirror is where truth and reality come face-to-face. However, what you see is not necessarily what you get. If reality yields to truth, then there is order. Reality is subject to the variables of time and circumstance. Truth is not. If a couple is thinking about buying a house, but one says to the other, “In reality we cannot afford to buy now.” Does that mean forever? No, because with the passage of time, circumstances have an opportunity to change. So in the future, that same couple may have the means to purchase a house.

Now, if a person were to step off a ledge, in an attempt to refute the law of gravity, he will find that the outcome of his experiment will not be altered by time nor circumstance. The first is an example of reality, the second of truth. Conversely, let us suppose that truth yields to reality. Then there is disorder, in this instance, as truth changes congruently with reality by time and circumstance. If truth does change, then truth is a lie. Our friend on the ledge should then get a different outcome to his experiment on a Thursday, than he would have gotten on a Monday – which would then make the law of gravity a lie, and that is not the case.

For truth is ageless and beyond contestation. The story does not end with Alonso Quixana on his death bed, a beaten man. Present with him is his squire Sancho and his lady Dulcinea. They are overcome with grief, because the man that lay prostrate before them is not he who rekindled in their hearts the flame of goodness, charity and dignity. They remind him of the truth that he stood for in his quest to revive chivalry.

As he listens to their pleas, something stirs within him. His despairing heart is rejuvenated by their overtures of encouragement and love. He rises up vigorously and passionately promises to sally forth again. However, his endearing strength of spirit is too much for his frail and aged body to bear. As he succumbs to death, he is again Don Quixote, who passes from this world to the next, while in the arms of his lady and squire. He dies as he lived: a knight.

The image that Don Quixote beheld in the mirror was his reality, not his truth. His truth was in how he saw himself. And this, likewise, is how others saw him. The profound impression left upon those who crossed his path encouraged change (where once thought impossible) – and for the better. So much so that an Aldonza believed she could become a Dolcinea.

Takeaway: Truth is not reflected in a mirror, but contained in the heart. It is often obscured by reality. Yet truth’s existence is confirmed by its outward effectiveness. No matter how distorted the inconsistent worldly realities may jade a heart, there in its farthest corner truth abides: A truth that endures and ensures the restoration of life to its full goodness, for one who desires it enough to fight for it. Like Don Quixote, we too can fulfill our just cause. If in the end, we are found fighting still.

via Alan Malizia in Of Truth And Reality at Contagious Optimism.

One year ago today:

Built in hope


  1. singleseatfighterpilot

    Please update us, your blog readers, on Matt’s condition as soon as you are able?

    • Hi Eric, I posted a more detailed reply to your inquiry on yesterday’s post; the short answer is that he is doing better today, though still not where he needs to be to leave the CICU. Thanks for your continued prayers!

  2. Very Interesting Julia. Sounds to me like hope is at work here. Think about all the people he helped see themselves in a better light and they liked what they saw. Things and people are not always what they seem to be. Lifting people up and out of the lowest point of themselves is very noble. He gave hope and strength for them to think more, do more and raise themselves up. Anything is possible with hope.

    • Thanks Patricia, I agree. I feel such profound respect and gratitude for those who are willing to look deeply enough to see beneath what seems hopeless on the surface, to the possibilities that are always there even if hidden. Matt’s lead cardiologist has a signature line on her emails that I’ve posted here before; “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.” (Charles Swindoll) When I saw that quote by her signature for the first time, I knew we’d found the right cardiologist for Matt! (Of course there have been many right ones; we have been fortunate.) There’s a good reason why the Bible ranks hope right up there with faith and love – it can indeed work wonders. Thanks for being with us here!

  3. This is a great post Julia! I read Don Quixote years ago and I am happy that your post reminded to look at my life again and reassess the view in the mirror. xo

    • M, I will have to read Don Quixote myself someday – I have never read it, knowing of it only through the musical and essays such as the one I re-blogged here. But I love the themes of the story. I’m so happy you like the post! Thanks so much for your presence here with us.

  4. bobmielke

    We often make famous people seem larger than life. General Patton comes to mind as I say that. in reality my type of heroes are my parents, who worked around the clock, sacrificing their own dreams to fulfill ours.

    • Bob, that’s so true; there is so much quiet strength all around us, unsung heroes everywhere. I have an upcoming post that features a video of the Mandisa song Michael told me about. The video has some inspiring footage of Robin Roberts, Scott Hamilton and Gabby Giffords – all “larger than life” celebrities whose determination is truly inspiring. But the real subject of the post is my mother. 🙂 Our parents and their parents faced difficulties we can’t imagine today, and most did so with never a complaint. We owe them so much!

      • bobmielke

        I was born on Mother’s Day so it will always be a reminder for me. My mom never let me forget how special I was to her.

        • A son would be a wonderful Mother’s Day gift! Your mother’s love will be with you always.

          • bobmielke


  5. raynard

    Julia after reading this blog , I’m stuck between the theme from the TV Show “Different Strokes”( Now the world dont move to the beat of just one drum, what might be right for you , might not be right for some”.. And ‘Family Matters( It’s a rare condition, this day and age, to read any good news on a newspaper page blah blah blah. If I was back in the desert, I wouldnt care if”the glass was half empty, full or even dirty long as my thirst got quenched for a spell”.. Be blessed

    • Raynard, the words from those songs are new to me – I know I must have heard them more than once, but perhaps I never paid attention to them, though I usually listen closely to lyrics. You make a good point about the whole half empty, half full debate…ultimately it might be irrelevant if we do what we need to do regardless. Thanks for being here!

  6. singleseatfighterpilot

    In spite of any of us “not knowing” rest assured the prayers – including those of thanksgiving – are continuing the same.

    • Thank you, Eric!

  7. Janet Sawyer

    Julia,this one is a keeper. I loved it and the quotes. Thanks so much. Blessings,Janet


    • Thank you Janet! I’m so happy you like it. We miss you, and send our love to all the Sawyers.

  8. Profound! I am not sure I have grasped it fully or correctly. Must go through it again. I had never differentiated between truth and reality. Thanks for sharing, Julia!
    Here life is getting back to its normal pace. Hope everything is fine over there.

    • Hi Bindu, I agree! I read it a couple of times and I had to turn it over in my mind a bit, but I do think there’s a difference between objective facts and the underlying truths that can be obscured by them. It’s similar to the idea that truth is often more effectively communicated through fiction than through nonfiction. Fables and parables have been used for thousands of years for this very reason. Compare Dickens’ Christmas Carol to a “factual” story of poverty in the newspaper. The imagined story is more true than the dry facts, because it speaks to the heart and goes much deeper. The Bible speaks of those who are “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7) and I think that’s a similar paradox.

      It’s good to hear from you! I’m glad things are getting back to normal for you. We’re in the hospital with Matt right now (he just had his 5th open heart surgery last Wednesday) but things are looking a bit brighter today than they were yesterday, and we feel grateful for that. It’s always a joy to hear from you!

  9. Julia, Hello. I’m so pleased Matt is doing better today. I’ll need to read your blog again…
    we all need hope, as well as faith and love.

    • Hi Merry, Matt is taking a little nap now so I thought I’d check in here for a few minutes. This recovery business is always two steps forward, one step back, but overall Matt is progressing. They plan to keep him in the CICU at least until tomorrow. He still isn’t able to keep any food down and we have to coax him to take small sips of ginger ale. He got a bit agitated earlier (probably from pain) but he’s OK now. Thanks so much for your prayers, and for being here with us!

  10. Sheila

    Julia, your words that are filled with wisdom are truly a gift to us, the ones who are blessed everyday here. I so hope that this has been a better day. When I read about Matt, his courage and his fight, I am so proud of him. You were never far from my thoughts this weekend. We are back in Garden City after we “Camped ’til we dropped” at Willow Tree. I received your letter and shared your thoughtfulness with Bill. We are deeply touched, to say the least. Thank you for the article, too. I will post it at our office. 🙂 Until tomorrow, my friend.

    • Thanks, Sheila. I’m so happy you had a fun weekend camping. Yesterday was mostly peaceful and encouraging, aside from the nausea. Matt got up and walked around some (with lots of help), and we both slept well last night. Jeff starts back on chemo tomorrow but he plans to come back in wearing his infusion pump on Wednesday so I can grab a few hours at home. I’m glad you got the article – I don’t watch DWTS (or anything else on TV) but that story was so interesting, and of course I thought of you and Bill. Jeff and I were talking last night about how totally amazing all this medical stuff would be to our grandparents. Though it’s sometimes hard to remember, we are VERY blessed, all of us. I appreciate your encouragement!

  11. Michael

    I kind of slogged through this book in high school. I thought it was a tough read, perhaps in part due to translation. Isn’t the song,” To dream the impossible dream,” from the play? Truth vs. reality and also to live with a dream or not. Somehow also the,”Life of Pi” also comes to mind; we can choose what story line we live. There is also the theme of the holy fool, or fool for Christ. So there is a lot to think about here in this wonderful summary which would have helped me out in high school. Perhaps in the end we are all determined by our dreams or lack thereof. It also says something about conversion, because if we treat others the way we think they might become- their best selves-who knows what might happen. That is what God does to us. Nice summary which I will revisit.
    Our friend Joyce just got her Holy orders for the Episcopacy. So congrats to her.

    • Yes Michael, “The Impossible Dream” is the most famous of many wonderful songs from that musical. I love the stirring opening song, as well as many other beautiful, funny or dramatic numbers in that play. I highly recommend you listen to the Broadway soundtrack if you can find it at your library – Richard Kiley’s voice is PERFECT and to me he will always be to Quixote what Michael Crawford is to the Phantom. I love Peter O’Toole in the movie version, but he can’t sing like Kiley. Not that he needs to; his acting was stellar enough without it. I’m glad you liked Alan’s essay. There is much food for thought there, as you say. I agree that Life of Pi is based on a parallel theme, and that’s one reason I loved it so much. Pi’s family, and later, his interviewers, were incredulous at his faith, but he remained unshaken. Congratulations to Joyce!

  12. Michael

    Robin Roberts had an interview on NPR yesterday and I heard a snippet of it. Someone asked her what takeaway lessons she had learned from her illness. She said she,” would not wish this (cancer) on anyone. Have their been lessons yes. Some things have been highlighted and accentuated, but I would not wish this on anyone and I won’t be one of those people who have a quick answer about the life lessons of cancer.” Paraphrase. Some things in life you can’t just wrap up in a pretty little box and put a ribbon on it. Wise lady.

    • Yes, very wise. We all want to put things into neat packages so we can think happier thoughts, but it doesn’t work that way. Years ago one of Jeff’s commanders and his wife lost a son who was about the age Matt is now, after having cared for him through lifelong disability. She was a real source of encouragement and a model of strength for me. Their son died suddenly (not uncommon with his particular disability) and at his funeral when I asked her how she was holding up, she told me “you think you are prepared for these things and then you find out you know nothing.”

      Watching what Jeff has been through the past 18 months has made me realize I knew nothing about metastatic cancer and the multitude of ways it and its treatments ravage the body. Matt’s surgery this time has been harder on Jeff emotionally than in past years because, as he told me, he has an entirely different understanding of what all this has been like for Matt through all these surgeries, the pain and suffering and exhaustion. But Matt is a fighter like his Dad.

      I embedded that Mandisa video you sent me (that features Roberts and other examples of survival) into a post about adversity that will be published in a couple of weeks. There are no quick and easy answers, but courage, hope and faith often prevail nonetheless, and that video is an inspiring reminder of that. I’m glad you sent it to me. Jeff liked it too. 🙂

  13. Julia, Thank you and God’s blessings to you and your loved ones. I am humbled and honored.-Alan

    • Thanks Alan, I meant to email you and ask if it was OK to re-blog, but with all that is going on, I never got to it. I’m glad you don’t mind my borrowing your essay! I appreciate your being here and sharing.

      • Julia, Feel free to use any of my essays. I’m pleased it inspires thought.
        I’m so sorry for the trials your family is undergoing at this time. I am a polio survivor and am not a stranger to such challenges. And it has returned as post polio syndrome.
        I recently lost a friend from our support group. He not only struggled with the effects of PPS, but had contracted ALS as well. His courage and readiness was humbling and inspiring to say the least. I get that same impression from your family as well. I will leave you with the last correspondence that I had with my friend, Don.
        “Blessed is he who endures under trials. When he has proved his worth, he will win the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.-James 1:12.
        God’s blessing and merciful healing,

        • Alan, thank you so much for your kind message. I am sorry to hear of your recent loss, but happy that your friend has left you a legacy that endures. I love that comforting verse from James. My mother is a polio survivor too, and she has taught her family much about courage. I have a post about her coming up in a couple of weeks. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us!

  14. Michael

    Truth versus reality. Have to read that again. Also the things we can’t see are also so important; faith, belief, love and intention. Those who appear strong may crack easily under pressure-those who appear weak may have backbones of titanium. Unbreakable.

    So does Matt get a special award- star- medal -purple heart- for his 5th heart surgery- and hopefully last?

    • Hi Michael, Matt doesn’t have any literal medals but he surely does have lots of admiration from those of us who have lived with him and seen his stamina first hand. Unfortunately, we can never say any surgery is his last – since he has artificial valves, which have not yet been perfected enough to last indefinitely, he will most likely need repeat surgeries for as long as he lives. Long term survival rates for tricuspid valve replacements are not stellar, and his first TV replacement was done in 2002; this being his second one, it carries even more risks (thus the rationale for delaying the surgery as long as they possibly could). That’s aside from the extensive scarring and other issues secondary to all the other procedures (homograft pulmonic valve, VSD and ASD repairs, Glenn shunt, enlarged heart, arrhythmias and other pacemaker issues, etc.) Having said that, Matt has been beating the odds for a long time now, and since Jeff’s diagnosis, we all live one day, week and month at a time – nobody is promised tomorrow, after all.

      That’s an interesting point you make about how appearances sometimes being misleading. To complicate matters further, sometimes the cracking — or the endurance — are invisible, not being seen by others until long after the crucial make-or-break moment. I’ve known of people who seemed strong who shocked everyone with suicide or other forms of sudden breakdown, and also those who seem to be falling apart who nonetheless outlast others who keep a cooler exterior. There is almost always more to any given situation than meets the eye.

  15. Michael

    There is a scripture about, “focusing our eyes on the things that are unseen,” that seems to fit.

    • Yes, it fits very well. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

  16. Michael

    2 Cor 4:18

  17. I love this show! I worked in the costume shop of SRT my first summer after college. I was the assistant cutter for this show. When it opened, I worked backstage crew. I’m still connected with the actors that played Sancho Panza and Quixote. The costume designer was a great talent and the experience an amazing one. Now here you are blogging about it. A few years ago, I featured a garden pumpkin every day on my blog for the month of October. One of them was Man of La Mancha. Let me see if I can round it up.

    Loved reading this, Julia.

    • I think the logistics (for lack of a better word) of that production capture the magic that’s at the heart of theater; how the dungeon is transformed into Spain – almost a metaphor for the transformation in the people Quixote meets and, in the end, the prisoners who become Cervantes’ well-wishers instead of his tormenters. “Come, enter into my imagination, and see…” 🙂

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