DEAR LITTLE PRINCE
The Planet Earth 1973
Dear Little Prince:
The ordinary postal services won't be of much use in delivering this letter. Just the same I feel I must write it in the hope that the thoughts therein will reach you somehow - as if with the help of a magical messenger.
When did I first hear about you?
It was fairly soon after the end of the Second World War in 1945. Almost thirty years ago. Quite a long time.
That knowledge of your existence was the result of reading about you in a book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the French writer and aviator.
I had the feeling - even during the first reading of that book - that you were far from being a stranger. And that, I think, was because you represent qualities which are firmly linked with all life, despite what some people think to the contrary.
What are those qualities? Innocence. Purity of motive. Natural grace and also the simplicity which cuts right through unnecessary confusions and seeks and gives understanding.
About a year or so before I came across that book about your visit to Earth, Saint-Exupéry - a man of action as well as a thinker - disappeared somewhere between Corsica and the Alps on an allied reconnaissance flight.
I've often wondered what happened to him.
"Pilot did not return and is presumed lost," a report declared in 1944 when Saint-Exupéry failed to return in his Lightning 223 which had left Poretta airstrip on a mapping mission east of Lyon.
The mystery of that disappearance hasn't been solved. But I don't think that's of very great importance. What is important, however, is that he is still a living force for many people.
How well we remember Saint-Exupéry's vivid words describing how he met you on Earth while he was in the Sahara Desert!
Poor man: he had felt himself to be more isolated than a shipwrecked sailor alone on a raft in the middle of an ocean after something went wrong with his plane and he was forced down amidst the sands of the Sahara. And then you made your appear-ance. Luckily.
That was the beginning of some extraordinary and revealing events until the time you left Earth and returned to your own planet. Was it a serene homeward journey? I hope so, Little Prince.
Saint-Exupéry once argued, in a letter, that one couldn’t really live by such things as refrigerators, bank statements and politics but that what one couldn’t live without were love, colour and poetry.
That viewpoint becomes very meaningful to me when I am rather weary of human problems and absurdities. They are the stresses which thrive on blindness and insensitivity, ugly disguises, the restless search for futile things and ruthless power, the kind of buying and selling which is of little service to anyone and can even be harmful sometimes as well as the over-dedication to a material security which is never really secure.
There are times, while trying to overcome such weariness and disillusion, that you and Saint-Exupéry flash into my mind, times when I need to be strengthened and refreshed by the mystery and beauty deeply embedded in life.
There is much, so much that conjures up that mystery and beauty . . . a babe humming a wordless song like an exultant psalm, a clear star-lit sky, the music of composers like Albinoni and Mozart . . . the dragonfly's delight as it flickers through a wood . . . the green-haired angels in some of Lorenzo Lotto's paintings. . .
Much, so much . . . the fragrance of the musk-rose, the enchanting thoughts and imagery of poets like Tao Yuan-ming, a mountain lake like a blue-tinted mirror warmed by the sun . . .
I could go on and on giving other examples of such phenomena and creations. They are the wonders which mean nothing at all, nothing, until and unless we are receptive to them, ready to receive their refreshing power.
Is anything so dark, painful or depressing that it can't be made more bearable and even overcome by the life-giving power of such wonders? I doubt it.
Like the song-strewn fields, light, air and water, they are accessible to all, to each living being, the just and the unjust, and regardless of his or her status, predicament, identity and calling.
It isn't easy to see people as they really are. Take Saint-Exupéry as an example. He was more than a writer and aviator. He was a good and sincere man.
I mention this because I feel that it is far more difficult to be just a good person, one who is true to his or her inner being, than to achieve those spectacular things which the world of man too often regards as the only tokens of success.
Saint-Exupéry felt it was necessary, even urgent, for people not to stray too far from their natural selves. And he appreciated how close you were to your natural self.
So he loved you. And when he looked at the stars, after you left Earth, it was as if he heard the sweet laughter of five hundred million little bells . . .
It was your pure and innocent laughter he heard rather than anything else coming from the stars. Like you, he believed that if one loved any particular being or thing in a star, it was good to look at the stars at night and that all the stars were then endowed with a special magic.
I think the significance of that isn't appreciated enough here on Earth where some people, who are thought to be very clever and powerful, have lost their receptivity to wonder. They are, I think, confused people who bring harm to themselves and others simply because they are ruled by unkind feelings and self-deception.
It's as if such people live their entire lives like masked actors who have also lost their ability to differentiate between what they really are and the roles they are trying to play.
O, yes, people are fundamentally much better than they think they are, and it is sad, sad that they choose roles so alien to their natural selves.
Isn't it much better to be a simple dunce than one who is thought to be clever - full of facts and all that - yet is totally enslaved by self-deception? And is there any wisdom greater than simple kindness?
(Dear friend, I have to keep a watchful eye on myself. I always have to guard against getting bitter or too sad about human weaknesses. I have quite a good share of them myself. Nevertheless, it's necessary to try to be as awake and aware as possible and not to underestimate the flaws in the human make-up.)
Awareness of your existence helps us to remember that what one loves and serves willingly is unique unto oneself and that it is only with the heart that one can arrive at true understanding.
Look where one will, this is happening all the time: people, consciously and most of all unconsciously, striving very hard to deny this changeless truth about the meaning and mystery of the heart.
Details of your friendship with a fox - in Saint-Exupéry’s story of your short sojourn on Earth - remind me of this. It was the fox who said that one can only see rightly with the heart and that what is essential is invisible to the eye . . .
Your encounters with other beings were, alas, not so pleasing. You found that there was much shallowness and lack of joyful purpose in the hearts of men. And now there is also much human unrest which is already leading to a good deal of unnecessary suffering.
The love of many of us here has been turned into strange things. Far too often it fails to fulfil dedication to warm fellowship, clear and motiveless appreciation, responsibility and giving - the kind of devotion you have for the special flower you love on your own planet.
It is as if what men call love is a conditional and entirely self-seeking emotion, something which has become unrecognisable and self-destructive, a force which is even hostile to the true nature of the heart.
Many Earthlings, in their confused state, seek too much power over others for absurd reasons. Instead of liberating others from unnecessary stupor and misery, they enslave them still further.
And when they strive for what they believe to be order while still clinging to spiteful and over-selfish motives, they usually create that which leads to great disorder.
This is all very strange.
Perhaps all this means that we on Earth are moving towards a number of important changes in our thinking, feeling and conduct. It is as though something rather wonderful is ready to be born. And the birth-pangs of anything are difficult to bear.
When we are involved with birth, we are also involved with what is called death. Can any new style of living come about without the death of a previous style of living?
(The very word "death" evokes so much grief and despair in the hearts of most of us. But what is this condition if not one of change? Does anything die, least of all the animating spirit behind the forms that clothe it?)
A great sadness gripped Saint-Exupéry on that occasion when he failed to find your body in the sands at daybreak. But he was also glad that you had returned to your own home among the stars.
You had lived through a death and a birth . . .
And your death on Earth was, as you said, only the casting away of a shell. It was that shell which Saint-Exupéry felt was like a dying bird, a frail thing shot with someone's rifle. But how well he knew that the shadow or rather impact of your spirit on our planet was something unique and gladdening.
Saint-Exupéry knew that truth for one who flew, as he did, was what lived in the stars. And it was you who helped to give him some understanding of that life. He learned that there were lovely and ugly growths in your tiny planet and that destructive plants were things one wasn't able to get rid of if one was too late in attending to them.
You called the bad plants in your planet Baobabs. (I've sometimes used that name for people of the narrow-minded and trouble-making kind, but more in a jocular mood than anything else.)
"When you've finished your own toilet in the morning, then it is time to attend to the toilet of your planet, just so, with the greatest care," you said. "You must see to it that you pull up regularly all the Baobabs, at the very first moment when they can be distinguished from the rose-bushes which they resemble so closely in their earliest youth."
The Baobabs of our planet now seem to overwhelm us . . .
They are, in fact, the ignorance which avoids tenderness and responsibility, the frustration which seeks destructive power as a compensation and the insensitive kind of authority which punishes others for the weaknesses it secretly hides within itself.
They also make themselves felt in vanity, cruelty and the over-attachment to material possessions which in time become tyrannical masters instead of remaining temporary servants with only a limited value. Temporary indeed - almost like the scenery and props on a stage where a play is being performed.
We are all to blame for not attending to the toilet of our planet. Some, more aware of what is going on, keep on pointing to the dangers of our own special Baobabs. But they are far too often ignored. The existence of such people, however, reveals that we are not abandoned and that we always have grounds for hope.
Hope - it is like a great and warm-hearted magician, like a rose-lit garden and a sudden rainfall on a desperately dry soil . . .
Nevertheless, the neighbours still quarrel and turn their cornfields crimson. But vision and the natural yearning for serene joy and beauty are far stronger than the forces which assail them.
Dear Little Prince, I find it very helpful, in the midst of our difficulties here, to think of you dreaming and laughing or perhaps tossing your golden curls in the winds of eternity . . .
This, I feel, is certain: whatever your predicament and future experiences, you won't fail to go on uprooting the Baobabs peculiar to your own planet. Nor will you fail to go on enioying completely the great mystery of life and accepting it for what it is, a constant miracle.
Can we ever have full enjoyment of anything for which we aren't grateful? No. I'm sure we can't. And you know this well enough, because your own gratitude expresses itself both in the way you recognise and serve what is beautiful and the way you labour willingly to preserve it.
What I want to say now - as I come to the end of this letter - might strike you as something in the nature of a confession. It is simply this: we need your love very much.
So please don't forget us. And think kindly of us always despite some of our weaknesses and strange wonderless ways.
Dear Little Prince . . .
Will it be too much to make anotler request?
If by any chance - somewhere and at some time among the stars - you should again meet the man who made you real for us here, salute him on our behalf and in the name of what is good and wise.
Interview met Hugo Manning: hugo-manning.html