Seeing with the Heart in The Little Prince Jan06


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Seeing with the Heart in The Little Prince

Image from The Little Prince.
Netflix recently released a film version of The Little Prince, one of my favourite books. They placed the story in the context of a meeting between the author and a little girl who really needed to hear the tale. This little girl was being forced to grow up way before her time; she had loss upon loss heaped upon her without any acknowledgment or assistance in processing it. She lost her father’s presence in her life through divorce, with snow globes he would send from his travels as a poor substitute. Her decisions for her life were replaced by her mother’s vision of life—a barren calendar packed with busy tasks but perfectly empty of meaning or joy.

The collapse of the mother’s hopes for her own life made her so fearful for her daughter’s future that she controlled every aspect of it that she could. At one point, the stress of future success was so burdensome that the little girl fainted. Her world had become so small and so focused that there was no room for error, no room for failure, and no time for fun, friends, or rest.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.”

When a life becomes so narrow and so devoid of hope or joy, it can become something of a mini-apocalypse. Here’s a funny thing about that word apocalypse; although the current cultural meaning of it has become “a great calamity” or “disaster,” the true meaning is “revelation.” The association with disaster comes from the Book of Revelation, whose title in Greek is Apocalypse (interpreting it as a disaster is very unfair, but that’s another story for another time). What is more interesting is that when disaster strikes in our lives, it is an amazing opportunity for revelation. It can offer us clarity, perspective, truth, and inspiration to change or make new choices.

This is what happens with the little girl when she meets the author, and consequently, the Little Prince. The Prince, too, lives on a tiny planet (asteroid, really) with room only for himself and one tiny rose. The rose becomes too needy for the Prince, and he was too young to know how to deal with someone else’s problems, so he got some birds to fly him away. Along his journey, he meets interesting people (including the author) who personify some of the less desirable qualities in humanity. Their encounter re-teaches the author how to be a child—a lesson that the little girl will need to learn for the first time.

Being childlike means to be vulnerable. It means to learn, to trust, and to be open to the adventure that life brings. The encounter he had with the author was life-changing for the little girl. He showed her how to live with imagination, joy, and belief in the improbable. But, by the time they had become friends, he was deathly ill.

The true meaning of the word “apocalypse” is “revelation.”

But, now, instead of a new grief without meaning being heaped upon her, she can draw from the child’s tool kit she had been given by her friend. She learned what children know about attachment, about belonging to one another, about things existing after you can no longer see them, about memories—making and sharing them—and the amazing ability to recover from sadness and setbacks. Maybe it is because they don’t fully understand what’s happening, or maybe it’s because they trust that they will be cared for. Maybe they see things more fully because they look with their hearts and imaginations. A line used in the movie a few times is, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.” I suspect this is what Jesus meant when said to be child-like in faith.

Both the little girl and her mother began to see rightly—with their hearts—as a result of the newly-found childhood shown to them by an old man. They used this opportunity of loss to recover their relationship, and to evaluate their quality of life together. By embracing one another and letting go of trying to control the future, they began to make life-changing changes that would ensure their future together.

When I find my world crashing in around me, I certainly become more child-like. Unfortunately, it often begins with the less savory aspects of child-like behavior; whining, temper tantrums, a desire to be waited on hand and foot… But, then I remember what it means to have attachment, that things exist after I’m able to see them, that there is deeper meaning in things than I can see at first glance, that I have a loving Father who will take care of me whatever my circumstances. My little apocalypses are opportunities for revelation; they are opportunities for growth and to make new choices. And they are opportunities for me to become more child-like in a good way.

Jennifer Schlameuss-Perry

Jennifer Schlameuss-Perry

Staff Writer at Area of Effect
Jen is a pastoral minister, wife, mother, ninja and writer. She loves sci-fi, superheroes, and classic literature, and prefers to share her Catholic faith through such lenses. Her book, "Comic Con Christianity" will be available from Paulist Press in Spring of 2018.
Jennifer Schlameuss-Perry

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