“Why do you sell these pills?” asked the little prince.
The clerk said to save time. Experts had calculated that a pill to quench thirst would save you 53 minutes a week.
“If I had fifty-three minutes to spend as I liked,” the little prince said to himself, “I’d walk very slowly toward a water fountain….”
I close the book and realize it’s 7:13, and my kids should have been awake almost half an hour ago. There are now only 48 minutes until takeoff and we need at least 25 more to wash, dress, brush, eat, wash again, and be out the door.
But today, of course, Sweetpea spends her first fifteen minutes on the potty. Xavi sits at the breakfast table staring at his cereal. The clock ticks on top of my head, tangling my hair. My shoulders wind up.
If I had 53 minutes to spend as I liked, I don’t know if I’d do anything slowly. I am a grown-up. I have to run a household, which involves timing. I’m not sure the little prince would like me very much. “All grown-ups were once children…but only few of them remember it.”
It does seem that he and Jesus would get along. The Son of Man says “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom.”
The little prince sees right through the silliness of our kingdoms. He visits a king, whose fabulous ermine robe, covering nearly every inch of his planet, does not stop the child from yawning, since he is tired. The king forbids him to do so, but when the little prince explains that he has made a long journey, the king then commands him to yawn, which intimidates the boy, who blushes and says he cannot do it now. The king is flustered.
When the little prince asks him to do something that requires true power, that is, to command the sun to set, the king cannot. The little prince takes his leave as politely as possible, the king shouting after him, “I make you my ambassador,” with great authority.
Next comes the planet of the vain man, who is thirsty for admiration, but cares not how empty or meaningless it is:
“What does that mean—admire?” asks the prince.
“To admire means to acknowledge that I am the handsomest, the best-dressed, the richest, and the most intelligent man on the planet.”
“But you’re the only man on your planet!”
“Do me this favor. Admire me all the same.”
The little prince doesn’t understand why admiration interests the vain man so much, and goes on his way.
Then there is the drunk, who drinks to forget his shame of drinking, which puzzles the little prince.
And the businessman, who is so busy he doesn’t even raise his head when the boy arrives.
“Hello,” says the little prince. “Your cigarette’s gone out.”
“Three and two make five. Five and seven, twelve. Twelve and three, fifteen. Hello. Fifteen and seven, twenty-two. Twenty-two and six, twenty-eight. No time to light it again. Twenty-six and five, thirty-one. Whew! That amounts to five-hundred-and-one-million, six-hundred-twenty-two thousand, seven hundred thirty-one.”
…“those little golden things that make lazy people daydream. Now, I’m a serious person. I have no time for daydreaming.”
“Ah! You mean the stars?…And what do you do with those stars?”
…“Nothing. I own them.”
…“And what good does owning the stars do you?”
“It does me the good of being rich.”
“And what good does it do you to be rich?”
“It lets me buy other stars, if somebody discovers them.”
…“I own a flower myself,” says the little prince, “which I water every day. I own three volcanoes, which I rake out every week. I even rake out the extinct one. You never know. So it’s of some use to my volcanoes, and it’s useful to my flower, that I own them. But you’re not useful to the stars.”
The businessman opens his mouth but can find nothing to say, so the little prince goes on his way.
The fifth planet he visits is the smallest one of all, with just enough space for a street lamp and a lamplighter. The little prince wonders why the need, to have a street lamp and a lamplighter on a planet without any people and not a single house. But he greets the lamplighter respectfully.
“Good morning. Why have you just put out your lamp?”
“Orders,” the lamplighter responds. “Good morning.”
“What orders are those?”
“To put out my street lamp. Good evening.” And he lights his lamp again.
The only explanation he can offer the little prince is “orders,” and the lamp needing to be lit after dark and put out in the mornings on a planet which revolves once a minute means that the poor lamplighter is working non-stop.
The little prince, however, sees that this one man is someone who is thinking of something besides himself, and he thinks he could have made him his friend. But the planet is too small….
When he finally arrives on Earth, “[It] is not just another planet! It contains one hundred and eleven kings…seven thousand geographers, nine-hundred thousand businessmen, seven-and-a-half million drunkards, three-hundred-eleven million vain men; in other words, about two billion grown-ups.”
Of which I am one. Perhaps you are too? (A bit king, some businessman, just a tad drunkard, a tiny wedge of vain man?) Maybe you’ve also struggled to understand, with Nicodemus and I, in the dark of the night, how to be like a little child? Is there a way to become “simple and elemental” in the world we live in and the workplaces we inhabit, when the requirements of survival demand us to be complicated?
Perhaps the most quoted lines of the whole book could cast a tiny shaft of light on this muddle. A fox gets the little prince to tame him and teaches him this secret: “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
What would it look like for me to see with my heart in the midst of the necessities of survival? How would I live my adult responsibilities in a childlike way? Can the reality of my life be transformed by a different way of seeing?
There is something here—something that calls me back to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3: Unless a person submits to this original creation…the invisible moving the visible…it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom…the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.
Perhaps this is saying that the Spirit could recreate my insides so that the love of power, wealth, vanity, my addiction, fear, or laziness did not drive my train. Perhaps my eyes could see differently, and things I thought were serious and important would fade while something else rises to the surface. Maybe my life would become reordered around love.
Here’s a question to consider regularly: where did I experience love today? What about looking at the most stressful places in my life and praying: help me see with my heart! What might occur if we became familiar with this kind of seeking?
“People where you live,” the little prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden…yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…”
“They don’t find it,” I answered.
“And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…”
“Of course,” I answered.
And the little prince added, “But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”
Sarah Fusté writes from Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she is daily surprised by the persistent questions and frank observations of her own little prince and princess. Her former French teacher self highly recommends reading this lovely little tome in its original version, although any version is a quick and delightful read. Sarah blogs at A Cup of Good Life.