What Is Essential Is Invisible to the Eyes

Author Diana Butler Bass has encouraged her readers to post one book throughout each day of Advent which has influenced their spiritual journey. I don’t know if I have 25 books to recommend (let alone 40 books for an Orthodox Advent, which I’m a little late for anyway), but I’ll give it a try.

Today I recommend Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince.

The Little Prince

The Little Prince is so much more than a fable. In a way, it has been a personal roadmap for life. The narrator, the voice of the author, offers advice for holding onto the true wisdom that only children know. Because all grown-ups were once children—“although few of them remember it”—he dedicates his book not to his best friend, but to his friend “when he was a little boy.”

Through the story of an aviator who befriends a little man from a tiny planet, the narrator relates the story of the Little Prince, who is in love with a personified Rose. The author himself was a pilot, lending credence to his tale; one year after publishing this book, St. Exupéry disappeared over the Mediterranean while flying a French reconnaissance mission during W.W. II. The book warns against the soul-deadening impulse to be busy with “matters of consequence” and reminds that friends and strangers are more important than tasks and projects.

St. Exupéry was the first to encourage me to listen to and reclaim my intuition. As a teenager and young adult struggling to overcome my dysfunctional perception-invalidating childhood, this was a desperately needed call: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eyes.” His words resonated with me and gave me hope.

The little prince meets a fox who instructs him in friendship. “Please—tame me!” the fox begs, for friendship is expressed as the process of ‘taming’ another. Consistency is key, as is time—time for a gradual deepening of intimacy.

            “What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me—like that—in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. . .But you will sit a little closer to me, every day.”

Because I have trust and intimacy challenges, this tale of how to gradually develop friendship is so significant that I have given a copy of The Little Prince to every boyfriend I’ve dated seriously, and I have given my fiancé a stuffed fox fashioned to resemble the character in the book.

LITTLE PRINCE FOX PLUSH TOY

The fox taught me about reliability and loyalty. “Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must never forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

This book never fails to delight. It is truly timeless. It survives multiple re-readings. Even today, in preparing this reflection, I discovered new truths. It’s a quick read, around 100 pages (my copy is un-enumerated), with simple illustrations. You may find it in the children’s section of the library or bookstore, or perhaps you had to read it in its original French as a school or college assignment. Don’t be fooled. It’s not a children’s book.

The Little Prince is a story about how to become human.