“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince*
Writing this took me a lot longer to finish than I thought. Mostly because of, well …life. I guess I, like we all inevitably do, have become like the grownups, always so busy with the busy-ness of life. But this also took me a while to write because I needed time. The Little Prince is a hard cookie for me to chew. I usually read it when I feel out of sorts, when I feel like I’m floundering and could really use some good, simple, quality life-advice, and when I need to look at life in the eyes of a child. But I always find it hard coming out at the end of this book.
It starts out with the author explaining why, at the age of six, he turned away from a possible future as an artist and instead focused on education and chose another career as a pilot. At some point later in life, he crash lands in the Sahara Desert, where he meets and befriends a little prince. The little prince tells him of his travels from planet to planet, how he eventually got to earth, about his three volcanoes (one of which is extinct), about baobab plants, and about his flower …and somehow, the little prince teaches him about life.
“One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
Relationships, loneliness, innocence, responsibility, self-awareness, love, life, death — this book touches on so many things considering the human condition that each time I read it, a different aspect resonates with me, depending on my current circumstance.
It is so effective in presenting itself as a children’s book, as it continually gives us reminders of simple yet profound truths only made clear to us when we look at life through the innocence of childhood.
Some advice we could all use at some point in our lives:
“Telling these memories is so painful for me… It’s sad to forget a friend. Not everyone has had a friend. And I might become like the grown-ups who are no longer interested in anything but numbers.” — Although it hurts him to remember losing his friend, he recognizes the importance of friendship and building memories with those friendships. We can’t let ourselves get so caught up in the important work in life that we forget about our friends.
“Children, watch out for baobabs!” — The little prince tells him about these plants that, if not taken care of, can overtake an entire (albeit small) planet. It’s about discipline, about tending to ourselves daily. Pull up the bad root regularly, as soon as you can distinguish them from the good, because they can look very similar at times. It’s tedious work but very easy when done early enough. But attend to a bad seed too late, its roots pierce right through you and you may never get rid of it again.
“I ought to have realized the tenderness underlying her silly pretentions. Flowers are so contradictory! But I was too young to know how to love her.” — Alas, the enigma that is us, women! The flower always put up a front to the little prince. What she would say to him, while they would sound biting or sarcastic, tended to mean something else entirely. Before he left her, he did not know how to understand her, how to appreciate her, or how to love her, and vice versa.
“[We] need to put up with two or three caterpillars if [we] want to get to know the butterflies” — One of my favorite lines by the rose! What an interesting perspective when it comes to the people or circumstances we encounter before reaching our match or potential.
“It is much harder to judge yourself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself, it’s because you are truly a wise man.” — Being skeptical of others is much easier than giving ourselves constructive and honest criticism.
“I have no need of you. And you have no need of me, either… But if you tame me, we’ll need each other. You’ll be the only boy in the world for me. I’ll be the only fox in the world for you.” — Taming the fox (and, in a way, the rose) is about our relationships. Tame sounds like such a vulnerable word, but isn’t vulnerability exactly what it takes for us to let someone into our hearts? For our loved ones to be significant to us among the billions of people on this planet?
“Eyes are blind, you have to look with the heart.” — What is essential, what is truly valuable, what is actually important, is invisible. We can’t find meaning when we look at the world only with our eyes.
There is honestly so much more, but I would just end up quoting the ENTIRE book! But I will not (cannot?) do that, you’ll just have to go and read it for yourself. If you can read the original French translation, I envy you immensely.
For those who have read it: I know that the ending is ambiguous, but perhaps Saint-Exupery did that on purpose, to allow us our own choice when it comes to what we want to believe and how we wish to believe his story.
For those who haven’t read it: take from it what you will. Sure, you can read it like you would most books: as a grownup. Read it because of the facts you can confirm, because of how the story lines up with Saint-Exupery’s life, because it sounds like an allegory to war and peace or even because it sounds like the very interesting hallucinations of an old war veteran stranded in the middle of the desert.
But I also suggest reading it like a child, read it simply for what it tells you. Forget the numbers for a second and listen to the words from a man who befriended a little prince. Listen to what he eventually realizes as truly important. The world is very big, full of very many grown-ups, doing very many important things.
But maybe sometimes we need to make our world smaller. Small enough that you could move your chair just a few feet so you could see forty-four sunsets in one day. Small enough that you could let your eyes be blind, and look with your heart. Small enough that one flower could mean more to you than the thousand others in the world. Small enough that you can hear the stars laughing.
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from a scene that stood out to me this time around when I re-read the book (It didn’t before, which is odd). It is near the end when the Little Prince is about to leave. (If you haven’t read it yet, skip this part until you have!)
It is the words of a dying friend, and it is heartbreaking and intimate, but it also gives hope and comfort:
“People have stars, but they aren’t the same. For travelers, the stars are guides. For other people, they’re nothing but tiny lights. And for still others, for scholars, they’re problems… But all those stars are silent stars. You, though, you’ll have stars like nobody else… When you look up at the sky at night, since I’ll be living on one of them, since I’ll be laughing on one of them, for you it’ll be as if all the stars are laughing. You’ll have stars that can laugh!… And when you’re consoled (everyone eventually is consoled), you’ll be glad you’ve known me. You’ll always be my friend. You’ll feel like laughing with me. And you’ll open your window sometimes just for the fun of it… And it’ll be as if I had given you, instead of stars, a lot of tiny bells that know how to laugh.”
*this is somewhat quote-heavy, lines in italics are all from “The Little Prince” (version translated from French by Richard Howard) by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
*This will hopefully be the first of many book reviews. Let’s call it “Dinner & a Review”! (see what I did there?) :o)