One thing that some people I've talked to over the years seem to find interesting, humorous, odd or even slightly creepy about me (depending on who you ask, I reckon, and I have to admit that I've often found myself a tad befuddled by the latter reaction) is the fact that I like musicals - both on stage and in the movies. 

Not ALL musicals, mind you. I've never been a fan of "The Sound Of Music," for example (which for some reason people seem to find even more troubling than the fact that I like musicals at all); and I think we can all pretty much agree that the less said about Sylvester Stallone's "Rhinestone," the better. 

On the other hand, I've been a huge fan of "West Side Story" and "Oklahoma!" since watching the movie versions with my parents as a small child. My wife and I took in a performance of "Big River" - Roger Miller's musical adaptation of Twain's "The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn" - on our honeymoon during that show's original national tour back in 1986. One of my regular rituals every year around Independence Day is to break out my DVDs of the movie version of "1776" and Jimmy Cagney's "Yankee Doodle Dandy." (Now THERE'S a double feature!) And I decided long ago that anybody who doesn't like Dick Van Dyke's "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" is simply beyond help. 

But my favorite musical, bar none, is "Man Of La Mancha," Dale Wasserman's adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes's 17th century masterpiece "Don Quixote." I guess the dreamer in me has always found something appealing in the story of a man thought mad by those around him because he prefers to see the world around him as he feels it should be, rather than the way it really is. 

The character's belief that certain goals are worth the effort no matter how hard that effort may be is, of course, best summed up in the lyrics of the show's musical centerpiece: the song entitled "The Impossible Dream." But there is another moment in the play, a line of dialogue by Don Quixote, that makes much the same statement: 

"When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? To surrender dreams...this may be madness. To seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness. But maddest of all - to see life as it is and not as it should be." 

I've seen this musical - both on stage and the 1972 movie version - many times over the years, and that line always evokes in me the same kind of emotional reaction I get when I hear our national anthem or recall such memories as the day Melissa agreed to marry me or the births of our sons. It may seem silly to some people (I can't do anything about that), but that comment within the dialogue of what some might call a "simple entertainment" moves me; it speaks directly towards my own philosophy in life. 

Robert F. Kennedy was making essentially the same comment when he so famously said, "Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?" There is a sense of optimism in that phrase, I've always believed; an acknowledgment that it's okay to dream of a world that is better than the one we live in now, and to work towards the goal of one day seeing that dream become reality. 

In my not-quite-48 years I've encountered many who, in their own form or fashion, seem to live their life by that principle. 

Some of them have been artists: singers and actors and painters and writers who have endeavored used their God-given talents to point toward the possibilities of a better tomorrow. 

Some have been politicians - Democrats, Republicans, Independents and "third party" members alike - who have truly placed the needs and desires of their constituents above their own petty wants or ambitions. 

Others have been teachers, ministers, parents or activists who have striven in earnest to impart the wisdom and knowledge accumulated over their own lifetimes to a new generation, in the hopes that the next generation will take up the torch and continue reaching for those dreams that lie just over the horizon. 

And some have just been the people next door: neighbors and townsfolk who come out to help those who have fallen on bad times by attending chili suppers, organizing community events, or simply giving someone a hug and saying "You are loved. What can I do to help?" 

There are those in this world who, for whatever reason, refuse to see things that way. They seem to spend all their time trying to convince us how terrible things are and showing us the reasons why, but never seem to offer any suggestions for change or a willingness to use life's lemons to make lemonade. "Every silver lining has a dark cloud" seems to be their mantra, and it sometimes appears that they will not rest until they bring the rest of us down with them. 

I have to admit, I feel sorry for people like that. I can't imagine what it must be like to go through life with that kind of cloud hanging over one's head, so utterly convinced that things can never and will never get better. 

But their gloomy outlook also makes me that much more determined to prove them wrong. 

Who's with me? 

(Copyright 2011 by John A. Small)