One of my favorite cartoons growing up was based upon, well, one of my favorite books growing up: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. A whimsical book that can be read at a number of different levels, the story features a pilot who recounts once meeting the prince of the asteroid B-612 (a kingdom of two–the prince and his rose) after he had crashed in the Sahara. Upon encountering the prince who is more interested in asking the pilot questions than he is in answering the pilot’s questions, the pilot eventually begins to tease out the prince’s intergalactic travel narrative. In a most matter-of-fact manner, the prince relays his asteroid-hopping travels to the earth-bound pilot. The prince, whose primary responsibilities had included cleaning his planet’s three volcanoes, removing the vile baobab trees, and tending to his vain and needy rose, has tired of the rose’s diva-like attitude and, as a result, has sought experiences elsewhere, leading him to his sojourn in the Sahara.
The story-within-a-story (meta-narrative for kiddies) ends with the prince coming to grips with his unique responsibilities and heading back to his asteroid to care fore his rose, mainly due to the prince’s encounter with a fox. While playing with the the prince, the fox tells him:
My life if very monotonous…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 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 back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…
Understanding that he must go home and tend to the rose that he has tamed, the prince abjures himself of his cosmic wanderlust and returns home. As annoying as the rose may be at times, the prince admits, “If some one loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars. He can say to himself: ‘Somewhere, my flower is there…’ ” The other planets may (and do) display a cast of interesting inhabitants who may temporally relieve the boredom of the daily, but only one contains his tamed rose. The millions and millions of stars suddenly become familiar to him because one asteroid is uniquely his–B612.
Now, I do not approach this short-ish story as one bursting forth with allegoric divine wisdom, but I do believe that it hits upon at least one centering truth: the particular is the only way one can appreciate and love the general. Aristotle and company might have said something along these lines, but I have no real desire to delve into such things at the moment. Let us stick with the prince. In regard to place, the prince was only able to come to a true appreciation of the universe after he had realized the beauty of his own particular asteroid, prima donna rose and all. To take one possible application of this: I greatly doubt that too many American soldiers are willing to die for the grand abstractions of Liberty and Freedom and Democracy, chirping chicken hawks (on all sides) notwithstanding. I am inclined to believe, however, that such soldiers are probably grasping at images of parents, spouses, children, neighborhood streets, and favorite local bars as they engage in and die in combat. (What is the common tale? Many a soldier dies crying for his mom?) Abstractions can take one only so far, and I cannot imagine anyone finding an abstraction particularly comforting or inspiring in those situations requiring blood and tears as opposed to pencil and paper.
Why The Little Prince? Because lately I have been asking myself the following: How much of our pick-up-and-leave stems from a refusal to tend to what we have already begun to tame? We grow tired with our vain roses and with our volcanoes that require constant cleaning. Maybe other roses will be less vain. Maybe other volcanoes will require fewer chimney sweeps. But. But. Will an inability to tend to our own asteroid keep us from appreciating the “million and millions” of remaining stars? After all, without a knowledge of the particular things in our daily lives, we see only random aggregates of stars. However, once we become thoroughly familiar with (and perhaps even fond of) the daily stuff and things–that which we can tame as our own, we cannot help but see a constellation or two.