When should we attempt the impossible? At what point do we look at a dream, a phantasm of an ideal and decide to haul it with chain and anchor of blood, sweat and sacrifice into our reality?
Some say never. In every world, fictional or our own, there are ones who look at the current circumstances and say, “It is what it is.” This is not to say such a philosophy is bad; such people are the ones who provide stability to the world and are the ones who endure the unendurable until the dawn of new hope arises. Such people are the ones who can achieve the impossible through the fact of their living.
Yet they are not the ones who prevent the dictators from ruling or atrocities from being committed. They have the power to live but refuse to acknowledge the power to control life. The ancient Greeks in their Oedipus trilogy showed one of his daughters live such a philosophy. Ismene and Antigone, survivors of a broken and desecrated family who watched one brother buried with honors while the other was condemned to eternal unrest through lack of proper burial rites. Antigone the rebel who in defiance of law and capital punishment snuck out of the city night after night to give her brother’s spirit peace, and Ismene the silent who saw life as being impossible to reconcile with disobedience.
The spirit which lived in Antigone was of the same family of the one that lived in Cervantes’ immortal character Don Quixote. In was the persona of Don Quixote who gave words to the life which shone through the spirit of himself and Antigone: “To dream the impossible dream, To fight the unbeatable foe, To bear with unbearable sorrow, To run where the brave dare not go.” Antigone fought an unjust law made by an unjust king and Don Quixote railed against an inert and base society. Neither had much chance of surviving their dream but pursued it regardless, knowing the dream was worthwhile for its own sake. Yet how is the dream still so worthwhile if it costs the dreamer’s life?
“To right the unrightable wrong, To love pure and chaste from afar, To strive when your arms are too weary, To reach the unreachable stars.” Because it is a continual purpose; it is something to always strive for and which gives a constant reason to improve myself and to change the world around me. An unbeatable foe for me might fall to someone else if I remain in the battle and weaken him for those who come after me. Bearing with unbearable sorrow provides strength and inspiration to others mired in their own until the arrival of the day when that sorrow is no more. It was the mountain-men and pioneers who ran where other brave-hearts dared not go and smoothed out the rough paths for the spread of a civilization. It is to show a new meaning of courage and set a new example of bravery. In Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged it was a trio of men, each in his own way, who set out to accomplish the deed so impossible few even realized it could be attempted: to stop and break the faulty mechanism of the world’s economy in order to rebuild it on a strong and sure foundation. Did it take years? Yes. Years and sorrow and heartbreak and agony beyond telling. How could they endure and persevere through a seemingly endless night? Because they knew that a valuable treasure demands a high cost, and valuable dreams come only at the cost of a soul’s peace and happiness. As Antigone said when the impossibility of her dream was pointed out, “When I find I have no power to stir, then will I cease striving.”
What is the impossible? Is it inventing an artificial heart or an artificial liver? Is it creating nanobots to heal a person’s body from within? Is it colonies on other planets? Or is it this: “This is my quest, To follow that star, No matter how hopeless, No matter how far, To fight for the right, Without question or pause, To be willing to march into hell, For a heavenly cause.” What is usually called impossible? To change the world in a large way; to do something that changes the mode of thought for future generations. A generation ago nobody would have thought that an artificial liver could exist in anything other than science fiction, yet today it is nearly completed and ready for use. The stanza above tells us the meaning of life and what it means to really live. It is to find that unreachable star, that glowing wish that others may strike at as worthy but hopeless and to reach as close to it as possible and then reach farther beyond the possible. Mayhap the star was not unreachable but was a mere fingers-breadth away from the height previously attained. Maybe the trail needed only to be pointed out for someone with stronger limbs to travel. Antigone was buried alive but became an icon of virtue and honor for a people. Don Quixote lifted and inspired a jaded prostitute to cast off who she was and become who she wished to be: a woman of character. To change a person’s beliefs and knowledge of inner Truth is to change the world in a way that can never be undone. Plans and blueprints may be destroyed, funding may be lost and natural disaster throw down the physical creations of our world but creations and changes in the spirit are as immortal as those spirits themselves.
No one can honestly claim it comes easy. To attempt the impossible is to challenge the status quo, and proclaim that the world is not good enough. Even as there are those who want to change the world there are the people who love the world as it is. They are the ones who will actively challenge the dreamer’s actions even as other people attempt to undermine the dreamer’s hope. (It can be claimed that the impossible dream is not the action or change desired in itself but rather to overcome the obstacles erected by human foes.) Suffice to say that no dream is without opponents. In Antigone’s attempts to give a proper burial for her brother she chose to become an enemy of the king who had decreed that any such attempt by anyone would result in death. Ismene had the same desire as Antigone but lacked the resolve to act to achieve it. Antigone was condemned to death while Ismene lived on yet it was Antigone who faced the remainder of her life without regret. As was sung by Don Quixote, “And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest, That my heart will lie peaceful and calm, When I am laid to my rest.” More than Antigone knew this in their hearts to be true. Rand’s book The Fountainhead it was the symbolic-title character Howard Rourke who faced persecution and judgment for daring to challenge society. When the call was to conform, he answered the call to be individual and dared to value his own ideas of architecture as higher than those of the people surrounding him. He valued the idea of one over the idea of the many. Antigone, Don Quixote, Rourke…three out of a multitude who pursued their dreams and goals in defiance of death and adversity. Three who knew that they had pleased those to whom they were ultimately accountable and who changed forever the beliefs of their nations.
“And the world will be better for this, That one man scorned and covered with scars, Still strove with his last ounce of courage, To reach the unreachable stars.” Even as enemies are born, so too are followers. For every challenge to the world there arises foes and friends in their respective places regardless of time and place. Ismene asked to follow Antigone at the end and the city praised her in their legends. Don Quixote inspired a nation to dream and live again as he went on his way and left behind an inheritance of the soul which enriched the whore Aldonza into choosing to become the princess of spirit Dulcinea. Jean Valjean, hero of Les Miserables proved to his mortal enemy Javert and to people in cities across France that a convict can become a good man worthy of praise. A person striving for a dream, refusing to consider the wounds and insults heaped upon him cannot help but leave the world better than he entered it for the sole reason of the lives touched and the hearts inspired to follow the newly illuminated path. To give an example Saint Telemachus sought to end gladiatorial combat as it was wrong and cruel to have men murder each other for entertainment. Entering the arena crying for the battle to cease, his battle was ended on the end of a gladiator’s sword. Did he fail? He did not. He lost his life but in losing it gave life to what would have been impossible otherwise; an incentive for Emperor Honorius to ban the gladiator games. By his death Saint Telemachus saved many lives. Who is to say how the lives of the men he saved impacted the world? Even improving the life of one person, with intent as between Don Quixote and Dulcinea or as a matter of example as was the case of Antigone and real people such as Christ, Mother Theresa, and our everyday watchers who though silent see us through admiring eyes, has the result of improving the world. For the world is made of people.
Dare we to think that we are unnoticed? To believe that we who are made in the image of God Himself are beneath the eyes of others? Not so and never so! Actions we take for granted may prove the unlikeliest of inspirations to those we never see observing us. A student who walks to school because she lacks transportation hears only after weeks that her matter-of-fact steps are admired by others; without complaining, by simply enjoying sunshine and stretching her legs, she lifts the days of others while all the while believing herself alone. When the days are foul and the mood is low some people say that “It’s impossible to bother being nice. Not like it matters anyway.” Yet it does matter. When people can die for their beliefs and risk torture and worse to save others lives is it truly impossible to adjust our actions and attitudes, or do we merely have the shallow belief that it is beyond our abilities?
In the early 1930’s and 1940’s it was being proven that it was not impossible for evil men to rule nations. At the same time it was being proven possible that good people would resist them openly and secretly. Some said that it was impossible for the Jews to be saved and trying would surely result in death for all concerned. It was better to be silent and invisible they believed. Others decided to prove the impossible possible. As in the well-known story of the man and the starfish, when asked why he bothered throwing them back in the water when he had no hope of saving them all the answer to the hopeless was: “Made a difference to that one.” Good people who risked their lives for others, even as Antigone did for the sake of her brother, brought hope and life to people who would become influential beyond measure. Corrie ten Boom was hidden, found, tortured, deprived and ultimately rescued. The people who saved her life attempted the impossible and through Corrie ten Boom’s life touched the lives of countless others.
So it must be concluded that attempting the impossible is a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself. Even should the attempt fail, something new is created. What is ultimately achieved may not be the original goal yet an unexpected treasure can be ranked as highly as the treasure purposefully sought. Attempting the impossible is what moves the world forward in a better way and prevents lethal stagnation. What is accomplished due to our trail-blazing is as much to our credit as the haven at trail’s end. Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” For the sake of those who come after us, we must dare to be the giants and lift them upon our shoulders. We must attempt the impossible so that by our attempts others may clearly see the path to making the impossible possible.
Antigone – Sophocles
Les Miserable – Victor Hugo
Don Quixote – Cervantes
Life of Isaac Newton
The Hiding Place – Corrie Ten Boom