|La Siesta (after Millet) - Vincent Van Gogh (1890)|
It is common knowledge, among the people who know me well, that The Little Prince holds a very special place in my heart (see this post). I read it regularly, and every time something new and different strikes me. The Little Prince is a treasure chest of truths about life, the human experience, friendship and love. Let me share briefly some thoughts I've had about the book lately.
The people in my world are constantly moving, both literally and figuratively. Moving away, moving back, moving farther, moving closer. Perhaps it's because of this day and age, or perhaps it's an eagerness to see, taste, and experience more and more, to push the limits of the known and attain the sea of possibilities that lies beyond, deep inside of us.
I, too, am always moving. On the one hand, it's a beautiful thing to see the world, to stretch your horizons, to step out of your comfort zone, to learn and grow beyond what you could have ever imagined. On the other hand, it sometimes becomes exhausting and burdensome to feel uprooted and have to start anew, in all areas of life, all the time.
One particular area where moving can hurt the most is friendship. Movement fosters creating new relationships because of (1) an increased exposure to new people, and (2) the necessity to make new relationships to 'survive' in society. From a sea of unfamiliar faces, some eventually emerge that have meaning. From an abstract mess of colour and texture emerge figures which our brain can recognise and make associations with.
You're given a geographic location, and a limited amount of time, and relationships happen. You find kindred spirits, invest your time and mind in them, and clothe your heart with shared moments and memories. It's a delightful phenomenon, to see the foreign become familiar, to tame that which was wild.
Oh, but when you leave your friends, or when your friends leave you, your heart is stripped of its clothes, laid bare again. Cold, vulnerable, and alone. What has been given can't be returned, and it feels like sweet, sweet theft. It sometimes feels like the pain of losing someone you're attached to, and having to start all over again, outweighs the benefits of having developed that friendship. What good is it to create something valuable, only to see it go away?
In the midst of moving, moving again, and moving one more time over the past few months, I genuinely asked myself that question. And in the midst of my reflections, I remembered my favourite passage in the Little Prince, the long dialogue between the fox and the Little Prince.
When they first meet, the fox asks the little prince to become his friend:
"My life is very monotonous," the fox said. "I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat...The fox then explains that relationships require investment and energy--the fox and the little prince cannot be friends right away, but must 'tame' each other.
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near--I was very inspired by this--the pain is worthwhile, because the gain is that that which was meaningless, is now meaningful. Even when people you have invested yourself in are physically removed from you, tokens from your shared experience are permanent and everywhere in your daily, tangible life. There is now beauty, savour and substance in what was bland, ordinary and hollow. And it has done you good.
"Ah," said the fox, "I shall cry."
"It is your own fault," said the little prince. "I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you . . ."
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"But now you are going to cry!" said the little prince.
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"Then it has done you no good at all!"
"It has done me good," said the fox, "because of the colour of the wheat fields."