There are elephants in this field. It’s likely that you don’t see them, but I do. They are two adult females and one juvenile. They seem relaxed and happy. Yes, happy. Of course, it would be much better if they were in their own environment with a large herd of other elephants, but, in the moment, they look content to play with so many children who are giving them affection, little kisses, and stroking their rough skin.
Truth is that it has been more than twenty years since they were truly here. And, yes, they received the attention of many young people and other older people and they were, these elephants, received with great enthusiasm and respect. It is more than twenty years, but the echo of their brief stay resounds here in the magic that this place holds and the memory many people hold alive in their heart and mind. And what’s more, this is how one lives life: through experiences.
To live. To live is to confront uncertainty each day. It is adapting to unexpected situations each day. Living is acting and responding. It is stalling. Life is the creation of a nest of twigs just to see it destroyed by the wind, or to see it carried into the hands of a young child who will marvel at its beauty and keep it in a safe place. To live is to create art, or maybe existence is art itself (one of my students suggested this and I love the notion of it). Life is not knowing the people with whom you live every day. To live is to experience something with others and to see reality in completely different ways. It is learning and forgetting. It is the Forsythia’s yellow shouted to a grey spring sky with the hope of giving the world a little color.
To live is to steal.
A few weeks ago, I saw a video on The New York Times website. In it, the cinematographer explores her young daughters’ questions and offers us images of the girls narrated in their voices. One of the questions was “How does life live?” I loved the innocence of this question and it made me think about Don Quixote because I believe that Don Quixote show us what it means to create one’s one existence and to create meaning in one’s life.
At present, I am revisiting the novel with my students. It is an abbreviated version of the book, but it is enough to give them a look at the character Don Quixote and, with him, we explore how the book and this character has influenced the world. The novel offers us opportunities to examine ourselves, too, and how we live life. How to we act and react to others and our environment? How do we engage in and define life on our terms?
For the most part, my E.O. Smith students are frustrated by the novel. Still, I insist that they read it so that they begin to see, or maybe even appreciate, how important it is. And, truth be told, through their conversations in class, and the questions they asked Professor Ilan Stavans (author of Quixote: The Novel and the World), it was obvious that the novel has made them think. They are reacting to the adventures and failures of Don Quixote and those that surround him. They are angry about the treatment of some of the characters and they celebrate the courage of others. And one student admitted that she was sad to discover that, at the end of the second book, Don Quixote dies of a broken heart since he is resigned to no longer pursuing his dreams.
In order to understand how life lives, one must comprehend that it depends a great deal on the concept of being. We all have to decide whether or not to continue (to fight) or to surrender many times each day. We look at the world in reflections or through windows or face to face. We live by entering into the craziness of others and coming out of it wiser or, at least, more sensitive, or maybe more closed. We live with our own illusions, sorrows, joys, and monsters. We awaken and we sleep. We are. Knowing when to follow the rules and when it is okay to break them inspires us to continue finding our way. It is the living of all things that share this small planet Earth that allows life to live. To be. And this is how Don Quixote and his friends lived their life: by being and dreaming.
To live is to shut your eyes.