The Little Prince

Aug 15

Like all of us, I once loved someone more than they loved me. Of course, I was young and undergoing a rite of passage common to everyone, even if it isn’t openly discussed except in hindsight. There are many milestones we use to notch our lives, like the marks we make on doors as children to show our growth as years pass. Some are religious: Baptism, First Communion. Some are secular: Getting Your Driver’s License, High School Graduation. But many more are never acknowledged, not even discussed openly: the First Dead Friend, Heart Break. Perhaps it is because the experiences are too painful to fully acknowledge, or perhaps in our highly competitive and material modern society any admission of failure reveals weakness, a chink in our armor that others may observe and exploit. Failure is, of course, impermissible; whether the threats without us are real or imagined.

Fairy Tales, in their true and unexpurgated from, can be terrifying stories. As children, we often read censored versions rather than the actual tales that were told around peasant cook-fires. It’s only as adults we learn that, in some versions of Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf eats the girl. There is no noble Woodsman. We learn that the Little Mermaid dies at the end. The poignancy of these actual endings strikes us. Through the revised and more real telling, we’ve learned some truism of life, something that was veiled to us as children.

When I was a boy, I read The Little Prince by Saint-Exupery. I loved the book-the whimsy of planets the size of houses and sentient roses spoke to my imagination. We know such things are impossible, which makes it all the more engaging. The child, as is often the case, is wiser than the adults he meets. Unable to please the Rose-which he loves-on his world, he leaves. The Little Prince journeys from planet to planet, meeting various adults-each engaged in exanimate tasks that have consumed their lives. Finally, the Little Prince arrives on Earth. There, he meets the aviator to whom he relates his story.

Saint-Exupery was, of course, French. The text is used to teach French to students in many classes. I dated a woman in college that was a talented artist, a francophile, a dedicated vegetarian and environmentalist. She was beautiful and her family was loaded. I had no idea how I wound up with this woman, and being the first person I practically lived with, fell very hard for her. Things were great-for a time. I’d met someone that was not only attractive, but also interesting and passionate in their ideals. But then, I found that I lacked some essentials in my character. I wasn’t a vegetarian. I wasn’t eco-conscious enough. Of course, my lack of means-I worked through college and rode a ten-speed bicycle. It was either education or a car for me-also did little to help matters. Rather than accept the situation for what it was, I raced about trying to please this Rose.

One day, I saw that she was reading The Little Prince for class. We talked about the book. I was excited to discuss it with someone. We argued about the ending. She insisted the boy dies at the end of the story. I insisted that he went back to his home planet. Reading the text, one could argue for both interpretations. But, nonetheless, the boy is bitten by a serpent at the end of the story, and in some sense, dies. He is gone the next day, with no body. During the course of our debate, where again, I was unable to please this Rose, I realized that things weren’t going to work out. No matter how hard I tried. No matter what I did or said. And I was right-within a few weeks, it was over.

I was left with the unenviable task of explaining to others in our shared social milieu just why things were over. I didn’t really have a direct answer. A lot of the women assumed it was my fault, somehow. I went through the course of being together even though we were apart, of trying to be mature and accept the situation and ‘be friends’, of watching some of my friends try to date her afterwards, of, finally, avoiding her completely.

Happily, I can say I never again underwent the painful process of critique and rejection I endured for reasons that, now, escape me. The Fairy Tale’s true ending came to me-the Little Prince dies at the end. I understood it. It happened. And once I arrived at this new perspective, my former view was beyond me. I was so sure I was in love. But now, years later, I feel absolutely nothing-except for a vague shame that I didn’t protect myself and my dignity by moving on earlier. That, and a strange wonder I could be so impacted by another human being.

The serpent, among other things, is an ancient symbol of wisdom. Death, often, is a device for transformation. We die to ourselves and are reborn, anew, a different person. There was a time when I was the Little Prince. But now, clearly, I am the aviator.

6 comments

  1. Bernadette Joolen, Beautiful Dreamer... /

    What fabulous writing and a very beautiful blog. (I loved The Little Prince too.) I will follow your writing through the facebook! Well, if you have a moment, I would be honored if you would check out mine. (I am also on the facebook networked blogs, which is how I found yours.)

    Here is the link: http://bernadettejoolen.blogspot.com/

    It is called Berndette Joolen, Beautiful Dreamer, and I like to write on similar themes. I look forward to reading more!~~sincerely, bernadette joolen, writer and accordion girl in seattle…=)

  2. roselotus /

    Lovely writing here, great directness with also a simplicity & grace. (Am a follower now as well. . .)
    Thank you.
    all the best,
    roselotus
    http://www.spiritsoulchat.blogspot.com

  3. Demeter /

    Just excellent reading, interesting, true and real … experience of life combined with wisdom.

  4. Shoreline Driftwood /

    Your essay style is quite engaging. I felt the sentences became a little bogged down towards the end of paragraph 4. I think you could re-write that paragraph and make it flow a little better. Otherwise, it's excellent. You should do more of this kind of writing!

    You make an interesting point about love lost. Once, all of us were in love with someone, maybe someone other from whom we love now, or someone we no longer love, even if we are not in love with someone else. The point, that it is often easy to feel nothing for the former love now, is interesting. I think it is generally the rule, though not always true.

    I've been experiencing something different recently. I've been hit by the realization that everyone I know will someday be dead. I have been looking at everyone from that point of view – "this person will someday, maybe soon, no longer be alive." The interesting thing for me is twofold: 1) I treat everyone a little more preciously, as if this moment between us will be the last one to remember and 2) There is a dual issue of being both more and less connected – I feel intimate in the moment though give up the idea of any long term intimacy at all.

    I guess both of us are experiencing something to do with the intimate moment, the intimate now, versus the lifetime. I wonder how it will work out for each of us. I am becoming more and more attached to the now trying to make it a moment of personal redemption and intimate connection. Let me know what happens with you…

  5. Hi! Today I was speaking with my mother on the phone and the fact that wether the boy dies or not at the end was also the topic of our discussion…she recently read the little prince but I read it years ago and she told me the boy dies, but I didn’t know that and I was so sad and it was really difficult for me to accept that. That’s why I looked it up on the internet and I came across your article! I really really liked it (I mean your article, I’m still not sure if the boy dies have to read the book again!) Anyways…just wanted to say two thumbs up!
    P.S: I also understand the vague shame you mentioned very well!

  6. Thanks so much Sahar! I really appreciate your comments and feedback. I’ve come to believe that the boy doesn’t die at the end-that his seeming death really was just his way of transporting himself back to his world.

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