Now that finals are starting and classes are over, I have time to sit down with a book, read, and write. My friend recommended The Little Prince, a book many say should be read at least three times – once when you are young, again when you are an adult, and finally when you are old.
One of the first themes the story hits you with is the loss of (seemingly innocent) creativity and imagination as you grow old. In college, I am seeing this pattern unfold right in front of me, even happening within myself.
I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man–he is a mushroom!
“Sorry I can’t spend time with you, I have to study!” It feels that the older I get, the faster time passes. I remember when I used to think that the 4 years of high school lasted an eternity. Now 1 year of college has gone by like a breeze. It seems that competitive schools are a pipeline into the rat race for more money and status, things that allow us to put on a face of pride. But the loss of creativity the story presents isn’t the only thing adults lose as they grow older. What’s important isn’t some ability to arbitrarily imagine that this hat looking drawing is actually a boa that has swallowed an elephant (or something crazy like seeing dead people in a blotch of spilled ink.
The sad reality is growing up and getting preoccupied with what we think are “matters of consequence.” Regardless of whatever these matters of consequence are: going to college so that you can make more money, befriending this person so you can get professional connections, reading a book so you can get something out of it, I think the problem lies in the very consequences you see in whatever activity you are getting yourself into. This actually relates a lot to the practice of zazen meditation in Buddhism. If you sit with the intention of getting enlightened, you will in fact never get enlightened. As we grow older, we stop doing things for what they are. Everything becomes a matter of consequence.
The story’s idea of taming stuck with me because of how intimately it describes love and beauty.
“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”
“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing.Because she is my rose.
“Only the children know what they are looking for,” said the little prince. “They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; and if anybody takes it away from them, they cry . . .”
It is difficult to put in words a review (if you suppose) of this book because there are still many metaphors and messages I don’t understand. For instance, why the snake speaks in riddles in Chapter 17:
“You move me to pity–you are so weak on this Earth made of granite,” the snake said. “I can help you, some day, if you grow too homesick for your own planet. I can–” “Oh! I understand you very well,” said the little prince. “But why do you always speak in riddles?” “I solve them all,” said the snake. And they were both silent.
This book was originally in French, and the English translation is written beautifully. Reading this story has left me with many questions — questions I know will unfold as I grow older. The Little Prince is worth reading, it’s also fairly short and would take 1-2 hours to read, so you should go check it out! Here’s a link to a free pdf.