“What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly” Antoine de Saint Exupéry.
The above quote, from “The Little Prince,” is where I root the fundamentals of friendship and has helped me harness love, especially in regard to the fragile nature of the human heart these days. The gist of the tale is this: the wood fox leads the little prince on a journey of establishing ties (friendships, the true essence of taming) which makes the prince’s ordinary rose “unique in all the world.” In the end, after the wood fox tamed the little prince and it came time for the prince’s departure, the fox was sad. The little prince could not understand the benefit of establishing ties if the result was to end in possible sadness. To help him appreciate taming despite the sadness, the fox sends the little prince back to a rose garden to try to understand how all the roses there were different from his solitary rose on his own little planet. It is in the presence of all these other roses that the little prince realizes that his rose matters more than any of the others because of the time he has spent caring for her, watering her and protecting her. It is the ties that he established with his rose that has made her so important.
The fox makes it clear to the prince that in order for taming to be successful one must observe the proper rites. In all it’s beautiful simplicity it means that taming takes time and patience. At first the fox told the little prince to sit at a distance and do nothing except to allow the fox to see him out of the corner of his eye. He explains that during this initial phase the prince should say nothing at all because words are the source of misunderstanding. Everyday the little prince was to sit a bit closer. He also told the little prince to come back at the same time everyday so that he would begin to know at which hour his heart should be ready to greet him; consistency is everything when it comes to taming.
The wood fox explains that the process of taming causes the world to appear completely different. For example, the fox had no use for the wheat field but after the prince had tamed him, the golden color of the wheat will always bring him the thought of the prince and give him joy. The fox will never see the wheat field in the same way again. It will be larger and more powerful all because he allowed himself to be tamed. The fox also can live happily because there is at least one person who truly understands him, for one can only understand someone after they’ve been tamed. After all is said and done and the little prince understands the essence of taming, the wood fox goes on to share a secret. The first part is the quote cited above, and then he continues with “it is the time you have wasted for your rose which makes her so important…you become responsible forever for what you tame.”
What is particularly poignant about this story, in this fast and furious age in which we live, is that it is the time and effort put forth that makes taming successful. The nature of today’s world certainly doesn’t endorse wasting time for anything. The wood fox in The Little Prince believed that humans didn’t understand anything anymore because they tried to buy everything ready-made at stores. However, there was no store anywhere where one could buy a true friend: friendship demands that we waste the necessary time and observe the proper rites to establish ties. As an observer, it is those that I have established ties with in this world that have helped transform how I see it. The world becomes infused with special meaning. All of us can rework the rules we choose to abide by and focus on our inner rhythm, but ultimately it is the process of being tamed and taming others that put those rules and cosmic music to practical use.
Loss, as foreshadowed in The Little Prince, is a common element in establishing ties. Because all of us are on different roads, with varied dreams, relationships often change or end. The up side to this kind of loss challenges us to spend more time reflecting on how the relationships in our lives have affected how we see a wheat field. Whenever the inevitable happens and those people I’ve established ties with begin a different journey, I’ve learned to look at it as just an opportunity for them to transform a wheat field somewhere else. Distance can’t ruin ties, only complacency does. True taming doesn’t rely on proximity.
Taming need not be complicated, but it may seem risky at first. When you put yourself out there to tame and be tamed you may be rejected. But just like the little prince did, I’ve found that if you let your heart guide you and observe the proper rites, the chances are that rejection is just an unrealized fear. Establishing ties with someone practically demands that you put the other person first. Taming someone for the sole benefit of my own needs almost guarantees failure. It should come from a place of empowering, rather than having power over. Trustworthiness is essential. Remember the last part of the wood fox’s secret: you are responsible, forever, for what you tame. Although being responsible for what you tame may seem daunting, try to see it for a moment as a beautiful consequence of the process.
Unfortunately taming, like the middle of many processes, is an often passed over step, because it takes time, it takes commitment and it takes patience. We live in an electronic age that makes everything quick, easy and often anonymous. Anonymity voids the element of responsibility, and I think it is why the ties of today are so flimsy. How we establish ties may differ with every thing, person, place in the world, but it still demands those essential rites. Regardless of the uniqueness of the method, the challenge remains: to reflect on who we have tamed in our lives and more importantly how we handle the responsibility. It is a powerful thing, this taming process, especially when it commands us to rely on our hearts more than our eyes, for eyes can play tricks whereas the heart does not (contrary to popular opinion that love is blind).
You see the thing about taming is that it is subtle, and it usually occurs over a long period of time. Those who have truly tamed me acted so subtly and consistently that I wasn’t even really conscious of it at the time, leaving me no time to run in fear. It need not be complicated and dramatic. Even though I’m just as big a fan of the being swept away themes in movies, I do realize they are only two hours long. The rest of us have lifetimes to contend with, we have to go beyond the “and they lived happily ever after” line. The work is worth it though. I feel so much better about myself and my world knowing that the relationships I’ve established (and it doesn’t have to be many) are transforming the way others see the world. I tame because I love; the responsibility then becomes a bonus and not a burden. It’s not even fathomable to me to imagine what life would be like without them. Given that life is unpredictable, I do know that even in the face of loss, life will never appear the same again. I wear them proudly like a seal on my heart. Now, before I get too verklempt, let me stop now so you may talk among yourselves.