I was in a somewhat thoughtful mood and found myself rereading Antoine De Saint-Exupery’s story of “The Little Prince” the other day. Perhaps a bit heavy or philosophical for some, but a favorite of mine for many years.
In brief, the story is of a young man who feels very lonely and not understood by most, until one day while flying his aircraft across the desert, he has a crash landing in the Sahara and wakes up the next day to meet a “little fellow” who begins to inquire about where he came from, while disclosing very little about where he himself came from. Throughout the story, the little prince (little fellow) tells bits and pieces about the planet he lives on and his tales of what he has seen and learned from other planets in his travels. It is a rather stunning allegory of the many different ways that we as human beings go about living life and what we deem important and worthwhile.
As I read through the story this time, I paused when reading about how the little prince met a fox on one of his planet visits. The little prince asks the fox to play with him because he is terribly lonely but the fox explains to him that he can’t play with him, because he is not tamed. The little prince did not know what this meant, so he inquired and the fox replied; “It’s something that’s been too often neglected. It means, ‘to create ties’… if you tame me, we’ll need each other.”
Perhaps the analogy seems abstract, however I believe the author is laying out examples of the innate need for connection or friendship that we all possess. He lays out story after story of the many ways that we go about trying to fill this need of being known. If one truly pays attention, there is great wisdom in each short story. It is amazing to me how meaning filled a few short statements can be so simple, and yet profound.
For a society and culture that is incredibly advanced and highly intelligent, I cannot help but wonder what we have accomplished and the potentially grave consequences we will face for having minimized and overlooked the incredible importance of creating ties and patiently attaching to someone long-term. We are a hurried culture. We are busy with horrifically long lists of things to do. We are often burdened and weighed down, tired. We are more often than not overwhelmed and feel a deep sense of disconnection from even those closest to us.
We simultaneously are surrounded by the ability to “connect” with more people at one time than we have ever been capable of before. Yet we feel alone. We long to be truly connected to other human beings. We long to be known by someone for who we really are at our core. We long to be seen and felt and understood. We are emotional, in that we feel a great deal of emotion, yet we are simultaneously detached, withdrawn and protective of our own comfort and safety. Which is often found in the patterns we have created and built our lives around.
The fox in the story describes his experience of being bored with his life, the monotony and all. And as a way of seeking to abate his own loneliness and boredom he is seeking someone to tame him, believing that this will give meaning and perhaps even a value to it all. “If you tame me, my life will be filled with sunshine. I’ll know the sound of footsteps that will be different from all the rest…” I believe that the little prince is persuaded by such a candid and heart felt request and he eventually asks him what he has to do to tame him. The fox replies
“you have to be very patient… first you’ll sit down a little ways away from me, over there, in the grass. I’ll watch you out of the corner of my eye…day by day you’ll be able to sit a little closer…” The fox continues by saying it is better to return at the same time each day, “If you come at any old time, I’ll never know when I should prepare my heart…”
The little prince makes the investment, he shows up, he commits, he gives, and alas he tames the fox. Then one day the little prince has to prepare to go back to his home and the fox expresses a deep sadness. The little prince seems almost cold in his reply, stating that it is only by the fault of his own, for he had asked to be tamed by him… “I never wanted to do you harm, but you insisted that I tame you… and now you weep”. The little prince is now assuming that it was all for naught and that the fox didn’t get anything out of being tamed, yet the fox responds wisely, that he has received more than he could possibly know, that even the color the wheat in the sunset looks different now than ever before, that there is meaning attached to even the most mundane of tasks.
“I get something… One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes. People have forgotten this truth, you become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed.”
I believe that we miss out on knowing this kind of deep attachment to another being, partly for reasons of safety, for we believe that if we don’t let anyone too close, then it won’t hurt so badly if/when we must say goodbye. The saddest truth is the pain of living solitary lives makes us lonely, anxious and angry. We vacillate between becoming rigid in our self-protection and chaotic in our fervent desire to connect with another soul. We crave connection. We yearn for companionship. We fight for it. We fight ourselves. We fight each other. We fight to be known and to know someone. While we cling to safety and familiarity that only creates more loneliness within.
What would happen if we were brave? What would happen if we could let down our guard, and let someone in? What would happen if we would take the time, to sit patiently and create moments of intentional contact with another soul? Is it possible that we could fulfill our need for connection? Is it possible, that even with the risk of potentially being misunderstood or vulnerable in the authentic self that we are, that the benefit still far outweighs the potential cost? I can’t help but wonder, if we could open up, become available and be willing to take the time, if we wouldn’t grasp the inherent beauty that lies within creating ties with another.