“No one can be what he wants me to be”

The last two song and sentiment posts have touched on problems of uncertainty. How does Floyd derive comfort from his series of questions about heaven? Why does being unblinded leave Nurse Fay Apple more uncertain that she was in ignorance? The last song I want to discuss is from Man of La Mancha. In “What Does He Want of Me” Aldonza’s song follows the same structure as Floyd’s–a litany of questions–but instead of finding comfort, she seems to be as discomfited as Nurse Fay Apple. You can listen to the song below (with slightly different lyrics than the revival version I’m quoting).


As staged in the revival, Aldonza questions Sancho Panza, the squire of the Mad Don Quixote, about his master’s ways. [This is different than in the audio above, where the song is addressed to Quixote.  I prefer the revival’s relyricization, because Aldonza cannot appeal to Quixote for explanation, but she might ask Sancho to explain interpret the man he follows].  Quixote is a holy fool, jarringly out of step with the world. In the musical, his inability to find a place in this Spain is not because of some flaw in himself; it is a rebuke to the world that cannot accommodate his abandonment of self.

Why does he do the things he does?
Why does he do these things?
Why does he march
Through that dream that he’s in,
Covered with glory and rusty old tin?
Why does he live in a world that can’t be,
And what does he want of me…
What does he want of me?

It’s not hard to translate Aldonza’s questions to the experience of the followers of Jesus. Think of the man who walks away after Jesus asks him to sell all he has and give it to the poor. Or the disciples who flee after Jesus reveals the hard teaching of the Eucharist.  They, too , must have thought:

No one can be what he wants me to be,
Oh, what does he want of me…
What does he want of me?

But why are Quixote’s unspoken demands frightening to Aldonza.  If he asked for the plainly impossible (“Aldonza, sprout wings and fly”) or obviously mistook her (confusing her with the very distinct Sancho, not the ideal of Dulcinea), he would be ridiculous, but there would be no threat to Aldonza.  Dulcinea is just close enough to possible that a little seed of fear sprouts in Aldonza that she might be called to be what Quixote asks.

Aldonza doesn’t just ask what to do about Quixote, which would leave her in the comfortable, spectator position of his relatives.  By asking “What does he want of me?” she acknowledges a relationship between them.  And she questions Sancho urgently about what, exactly Quixote wants from her, because sooner or later, she’s going to have to decide whether to deny it to him.

Doesn’t he know
He’ll be laughed at wherever he’ll go?
And why I’m not laughing myself…
I don’t know.

Why does he want the things he wants?
Why does he want these things?
Why does he batter at walls that won’t break?
Why does he give when it’s natural to take?
Where does he see all the good he can see,
And what does he want of me?
What does he want of me?

Aldonza is stuck on the horns of Lewis’s Trilemma: Lunatic, Liar, or Lord.  If Quixote’s claim can’t be laughed off, then someone must have the authority to ask Aldonza to be more than she is.  But since Quixote is just a man, Aldonza can’t answer his demand with Augustine’s prayer, “Give what you command, and command what you will.”  Quixote has unblinded her but doesn’t have to power to lead her, so Aldonza despairs in the gulf between ought and is.

But, for a Christian, there’s no begging off being what He wants you to be, since we’re given a more trustworthy guide than Quixote.  But the demands he makes have a tendency to sound just as foolish.  I’ve said before I tend to like hymns with a martial tone (especially “God Whose Purpose is to Kindle“), but I think the one that’s most likely to make your blood run cold is “The Summons.”

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

The horror of that let!

Christ calls us Dulcinea already, and rebukes us for clinging to ‘Aldonza’ in our fear.   We’ve already been offered the power to be what we ought to be, but, moment by moment, we decline to exercise it or acknowledge it.  We couldn’t possibly be so beautiful or so strong.  Better to stay small on the sidelines than acknowledge every moment we’ve spent shirking til this point.  The first ‘Amen’ is an acknowledgement that we hadn’t said it until now.

But better to bite the bullet and admit that I have greatly sinned, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, than to deny culpability by denying that I can and should be better.


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  • Great reflections. You make me feel so musically illiterate!

    There is a huge upside admitting you should be better. It sets the bar high. You push yourself to more and more. You beg God for more grace rather than being happy with a boring religion. It means you get to live. The glory of God is a human fully alive. We get to live that but only if we really want it.

  • kmk

    God bless you as you prepare to enter the Church!

  • Justin

    Thank you for all your reflections, Leah.
    I wish you a blessed day tomorrow. May you keep the faith.

  • grok87

    “We’ve already been offered the power to be what we ought to be, but, moment by moment, we decline to exercise it or acknowledge it. We couldn’t possibly be so beautiful or so strong. Better to stay small on the sidelines than acknowledge every moment we’ve spent shirking til this point. The first ‘Amen’ is an acknowledgement that we hadn’t said it until now. But better to bite the bullet and admit that I have greatly sinned, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, than to deny culpability by denying that I can and should be better.”

    Well said Leah!

    As Christians, one source of the urgency of “the summons” to stop “shirking” and “be what he (God) wants us to be” is that we don’t know when the “end of days” will be. Today’s gospel (Mark 13) is relevant:

    Jesus said to his disciples: “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
    “And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

    “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

    As the church year draws to its end in November, these passages on the “end of days” are becoming more frequent. It must be an interesting experience for you to be “beginning” as a new convert amongst all of this talk of the end times…
    We’ll be praying for you tomorrow.

  • Cotent Note: Rape, Sexual Assault

    I really like your reflection.It’s gotten me thinking more than anything else I’ve read in a while. This is somewhat surprising since I unequivocally hated the messages of Man of La Mancha. Quixote’s Dulcinea is purely pedestalization. Quixote’s philosophy, since is arbitrarily based on dopey knightly literature, leads to Aldonza’s brutal rape, and then Aldonza’s rape is minimized by her just getting over it (in a process the audience is not entitled to see, and thus is not taken seriously).
    Quixote is incapable of respecting unhappy Aldonza, and the play’s author don’t respect her either, since they seem to believe her circumstances can be overcome if she just changes her outlook a bit. I’ve never been in Aldonza-like circumstances, but I’m pretty sure if I had been, I’d feel insulted by that. Oh, and Quixote’s attentions, which aren’t encouraged at first by Aldonza, are also just a less obvious form of sexual harassment, in case anyone missed that.

    Did I mention that I really didn’t like Man of La Mancha? Though the music was pretty good.

  • Great meditations, Leah.

    You were an awesome atheist and now you’re showing you’ll be an even awesomer Catholic. Plus you make me want to watch all those musicals, which is not something new for me. I’ll be asking for selection&sequencing advice after the festivities.

    I’ll be praying for you today. Have fun! (Or have had fun, if you sensibly keep of the Internet today.)

  • jose

    So not only the church keeps winning on morality despite the fact that it keeps losing, but its teachings are now beautiful and strong, as opposed to all those small, shirking non-catholics, those sideliners.

    • Iota


      “as opposed to all those small, shirking non-catholics, those sideliners.”

      Y’ know I wonder why you read that post that way. Frankly what I read in it (and the whole pre-baptismal reflections series) is mostly a self-examination (i.e. Leah pondering some of her stuff related to what she thinks/feels) rather than as any sort of rebuke or comment on other people (e.g. non-Catholics).

      Out of interest: what exactly made you read it that (apparently) self-congratulatory way?

      • jose

        The “we” kind of gives it away. It includes everyone. Jesus calls us but we just prefer shirking on the sidelines and remain small and unbeautiful unless we become catholics like Leah. You know, she’ll be an excellent catholic: turning up her nose at 5/6 of humanity just like every bishop I’ve ever known.

        • Kristen inDallas

          I don’t take the “we”s as non-catholic, I take them as a reference to all of humanity. Catholic, etymologically, means “whole.” In my expirience Catholocism is more about striving for something not of this world, while acknowledging that we are part of this world (ie, turning up our noses at 6/6 of humanity, but recognizing ourselves as part of that imperfect whole). I understand why a non-Catholic might read that as snooty, but think it’s more projection than anything (at least here.) Note that the bit about “unless we become catholics like Leah” was added by you, not the author, and I wouldn’t presume that she thinks that becoming Catholic will somehow cure her of her humanity, as much as simply make her more aware of it.

        • Iota


          Methinks you are projecting…

          Here’s how I see Leah’s blog: Leah has a habit of wanting people to be on her side. She had that habit when she was an atheist.. Would you have disapproved of it back then?

          Some people found/find/will find it uncomfortable. But a great thing about her approach, as I see it, is that there is little (read: no) contempt/disrespect in it.

          Wanting others to be on your team (or thinking they’d greatly benefit if they were, see e.g. her approach to math) is sort of the logical result of thinking you are right. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. What would be wrong would be contempt for people who are not on your team but I haven’t seen Leah exhibit that in her posts, so I really see no good reason to accuse her of that particular thing.

          Of course I’m Catholic so I approve of this particular fight she’s picking, but I was around long before that and I approved of her style back then. I’m purposefully referencing posts made before her conversion (yes, before the conversion experience, not before the announcement – if she sounds crypto-Catholic, yoy’ll have to deal with that).

  • jenesaispas

    Not long now!

    Here’s a nice prayer:

    O Holy spirit of God;
    Take me as Your disciple.
    Guide me, illuminate me,
    Sanctify me.

    Bind my hands,
    That they may do no evil.
    Cover my eyes,
    That they may see it no more.

    Sanctify my heart,
    That evil may not dwell within me.
    You are my God.
    You are my guide.

    Whatsoever You forbid me,
    I will renounce.
    And whatsoever You commend me,
    In Your strength I will do.
    Lead me then
    Unto the fullness of Your truth.


    Cardinal Manning

  • Joe

    Happy Birthday Leah!!!! Who would have thunk it we’re siblings!!!

  • deiseach

    Posting on Sunday afternoon (over here) so it’s The Big Day already – congratulations and welcome! It’s nice to have a new sister! 🙂

  • Joanne

    Congratulations Leah from South Africa. All the best for your ongoing journey. I’ve really appreciated your posts and you pointing me in some new thought directions as a lifelong Catholic who hasn’t necessarily thought along those lines before. Thanks for this… Sending good thoughts and prayers for you today.

  • Arizona Mike

    I never fail to enjoy your thought-provoking posts. I am so, so glad you will be welcomed into the Faith, Leah.

  • Richard

    A few scattered points:
    1. I like the Anglican General Confession. It is a good prayer to memorize.
    2. Have you read any of John Donne’s poetry? Such as the Holy Sonnets, esp. sonnet 14?
    3. You also might like the Rule of St. Benedict
    4 and most important. Congratulations on your entry into the Church

  • Leah: Welcome to the big messy Catholic family!
    Reluctant Liberal: Very interesting remarks, though I can’t get where you’re coming from at all, as I love that play. IMHO, you’re completely wrong about the character. You are looking at it with a very narrow narrow ideological lens. Or are you just being sarcastic? It’s hard to tell in a forum like this. If you’re not being sarcastic, it’s interesting that you see Quixote the same way Cervantez did — as a fool with a stupid philosophy — although he sure didn’t see Aldonza either the way you do or the way the playwright did. Cervantez had no intention of creating a character people would admire, and my favorite part of the play is that the prisoners in jail with him demand a happy ending, which he provides only under duress and with the stipulation that it’s not at all his ending. I think all the people who read and loved the book wanted that happy ending, which is only happy for Aldonza and Sancho, and even then only happy in the sense that they now know the order things should be in, despite the order they really are in.

    • Hi Gail!

      I definitely was not being sarcastic, though I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my issues stem from the quality of performance I saw. It seemed like the play in general didn’t know what it was trying to say, but that could have just been the actors/director. I will say, as written, I still think calling Quixote’s worldview a philosophy, even a stupid one, gives it an unearned compliment. Quixote’s worldview was an arbitrary selection of ideas from the crappy literature of his day, and it caused him to pick fights, steal shaving bowels, and harass women (well, one woman, anyway).

      I can’t really speak for the ending. It seemed completely out of nowhere (Aldonza’s turnaround made no sense, anyway), but here I do think the quality of acting played a more important role than elsewhere.

      • Ted Seeber

        There are women who don’t like chivalry. The rest are worth dying for.

        Could it be that your real objection was to the chivalry itself? The Crappy knightly books as you call them?

        But is the romance in the Twilight novels, that are currently teaching a whole new generation of girls that being raped by the bad boy is romantic, any different (it doesn’t matter if you are Team Jacob or Team Edward- BOTH are bad for Bella and her life will be worse for knowing them- and in fact, turns out to be worse in the end)?

        Real Chivalry includes the concept of *actually* taking your lady’s favor into battle- not just figuratively, but literally. The first sign of dying for her- is respecting her enough NOT to rape her.

        • I don’t like chivalry, but I also don’t equate it with the crappy romantic books Cervantes was satirizing either.

          Yes, Twilight is different. It is much, much worse than Man of Lancha. I’m not sure how it’s relevant to the present conversation though.

          First of all, what battle? Second of all, committing violence in the name of a woman doesn’t ennoble violence (one of the reasons I don’t like chivalry). And I really don’t know what you’re trying to say with your last sentence.

          • Ted Seeber

            The internal battle every human male must face- the battle between love and lust.

            In a culture that fails to recognize the difference, that has in fact utterly replaced romantic love so completely that teenagers no longer hold hands preferring instead sexual hookups arranged by text messages, I can easily imagine the purpose of Chivalry- the real purpose- being just as utterly lost.

            Abstinence to a human male feels just like going into battle. Chastity is not easy in a culture where every woman is an object and they’re even willing to destroy their own fertility to make themselves more available to you.

            But the reward is love. Not lust, but love. Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be, romantic love. The sexual revolution has almost destroyed it- less than 9% of Americans are married by age 24, less than 50% of those marriages will survive to see one of the spouses turn 35. In its place we get one night stands, the totally lust driven gay marriage, the eternal chase after the bad boy.

            But what started it all, was a mistaken idea about chivalry and how the human male brain works.

          • 1) I’m pretty sure teenagers still hold hands.
            2) I didn’t have sex until I was married. That never felt like going into battle.
            3) Just so we’re on the same page, we agree that battle (actual battle, that is) is a bad thing, right? Killing people might be justified, but it is never good. If we do agree on that, can we agree not to use metaphor sets that ennoble and glorify battle as if it were a good thing?
            4) I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t think any woman ever destroyed her own fertility to make herself more available to me.
            5) Grow Old With Me was almost my wedding song.
            6) You don’t know any gay couples, do you? No, it’s clear you don’t. Attitudes like the one you just expressed are why the Catholic teaching about homosexuality isn’t just wrong, but evil.
            7) The human male brain works in lots of different ways.

          • ACN

            Reluctant Liberal,

            To clarify, Ted considers all forms of birth control to be “destruction of fertility”.

            It would appear that Ted thinks that women who use hormonal birth control are lurking around every corner, poised to fling their naked, de-fertilized, bodies at men to rob them of their sexual purity.

          • Ted Seeber

            1: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2012/catholics-awake-marriage-doesnt-just-happen
            2: Are you saying that chastity doesn’t take courage and bravery?
            3: Battle need not include killing- just as Jihad doesn’t necessarily mean strapping dynamite to yourself and blowing up a restaurant. But thanks for proving my point that romance has truly become dead and that modern people don’t know an analogy from a hole in the ground.
            4: Maybe not you personally, but that’s the effect of contraception, birth control, and sterilization that is being pushed these days.
            5: Good for you! Too bad you don’t seem to believe in teaching those same values to the younger generation.
            6: I’ve known *several* gay couples. Almost NONE of them are still with the person they were with when I met them. Thus, my comment from *direct observation*. It doesn’t take a gay pride parade to understand that there is a significant difference between homosexuality and marriage.
            7. Not really. Biology is biology, and once that oxytocin gets flowing, there are only two choices: Chivalry or promiscuity.

            And yes, I do consider all forms of birth control to be neutering- whether male or female. Just as I consider ALL promiscuity to be bad- be it hetero, homo, or pseudo.

          • 1. I don’t follow links.
            2. No. It doesn’t. I was a virgin until the age of 21, and was never the slightest bit ashamed of saying so.
            3. In what twisted universe does battle=romance? What kind of relationship does that set you up for?
            4. No it isn’t, or at least that’s a tiny fraction of the effects of contraception. People are complicated and varied, and so are their responses.
            5. I believe that people should choose the relationships that work best for them. That includes the kind sung about in Grow Old With Me.
            6. How does that rate compare with all the straight couples you’ve known. And really, you observed that the gay couples were based solely around lust? You really observed that?
            7. Nope. Sorry. actual biology is more complicated than that. What you’re saying isn’t science, it’s ideology with a technical vocabulary.

  • This is devastatingly fine writing, and very moving. I’d never thought about the play in that way, but now it comes as a blinding flash of the obvious. All of the ways you describe Quixote, even the “Holy Fool,” have been applied to Christ … and it’s hard now not to realize that Quixote, in this reading, re-presents Christ in his actions in the play (I’m not very familiar with the original). That was probably obvious, but it came as a surprise to me. Thanks.

  • Chris

    Skip backwards from “Man of la Mancha” to the original author. Cervantes, like Shakespeare, lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and his work, like Shakespeare’s, is positively dripping with Catholic thought. Reading your line, “[b]ut, for a Christian, there’s no begging off being what He wants you to be, since we’re given a more trustworthy guide than Quixote,” I am reminded of Aquinas. Recall that the Angelic Doctor teaches us (among other things) that Jesus is either God or the craziest man alive. So what better way to reflect this reality than by painting a literary portrait of the craziest man alive, namely the Walking Horseman (caballero andante), Don Quixote?

    What better way to highlight the divinity of the Son of Man than by highlighting the heights of his folly if he were a mere sage claiming the highest acclaim of all? And the Walking Horseman was only tilting at windmills. The Walking Prophet was tilting at death itself.

    In Don Quixote, we see Christ if he were not, in fact, God. One can almost claim that in Christ, we see Don Quixote — and every other crazy do-gooder who is out of his element — if he were.

  • David Naas

    And then, there’s the Magdalene’s song in Superstar– “I don’t know how to love him”…

  • Leah, have you read Laplanche on the enigmatic signifier? I’m not inclined to suggest you do, because he’s not terribly readable, but his idea of the enigmatic signifier pertains to what you’ve written. Tangentially, at least.
    Because Laplanche is a Freudian, to him the e.s. is sexual, but I think we can still use the concept without the sexual component necessarily attached. The enigmatic signifier is the content of your interlocutor’s speech that you cannot interpret. To an infant, an adult’s sexuality is the original enigmatic signifier, and the e.s. is the seed of the unconscious. But we never stop receiving enigmatic signifiers, throughout our lives, usually in the form of the other’s unspoken (or unspeakable) expectations of us. Generally, the response to the e.s. is characterized as, “What does [my interlocutor] want of me?”
    I have no idea how to connect these thoughts right now. But… you’ve started something in my thinking. This could go somewhere. Just so you know. And maybe you can take it somewhere, too, if you want to. One of the obvious differences here is that Aldonza suspects that she knows what Quixote wants of her; it’s not the lack of knowing but the fear she can’t, but must, deliver.

    • leahlibresco

      I haven’t, but your gloss is interesting!