Some things take longer to write than others… Even if there’s a direction and a desire, ripening has to take place in heart and mind before anything comes to life. For a song, it can start with a title or a few notes of melody and a vague lyric, then emotions, memories and wishes click into shape in their own time. When the pattern satisfies a hunger and seems to have always existed, you know it’s done. Blogposts feel like mending holes in a story. Picking up the threads where I left off and tying them to the fabric of where I want to go.
For the past months, I’ve been in creative slomo, unable to imagine a future without my mother. I fell into a well of pain and couldn’t get out. There was no logic to it, because my loved ones were very present. Gradually feelings became ideas. there was a turning point when I identified my pain as loneliness and remembered my mother saying how lonely she was in assisted living, especially during the pandemic. By herself day after day, she was fading away, having a harder and harder time connecting even when she finally moved to a new place with more company, more and more lonely.
For my own comfort, I kept hoping she’d find new joy and meaning and stay with us a while longer, but it was too late. I was holding on to her but she was unhappy and needed to go. I think I’m accepting more and more that it’s better for her to go than be so unhappy. Grief has been a way to keep her with me. Now I want to find other ways to feel her presence, be more present myself and look ahead.
I’ve been using a gift she gave me: her recording of The Little Prince by Antoine de Sait Exupéry. She taped it on a cassette 20 years ago and I’ve converted it to MP3. (If you still have your parents, I highly recommend asking them to record a beautiful story for you.) I feel so fortunate to have it. It’s perfect for me right now. Not every day, but when I miss her, I can put it on when I’m doing something else. It’s about 90 minutes long and her voice is so soothing, like having her in the same room with me, surrounding me with a warm hug…
The Little Prince is the most translated book in the world after the Bible, yet it seems relatively unknown among my US family and friends. They may have heard the title but not read it. I can understand why. It’s very very French, a hologram of French culture, maybe a bit too exotic for anyone but a true francophile. It’s also a time capsule from the last century, a slower time. If it were published today, half of it would probably get hacked away by an editor to define the mandatory dramatic arc of Act 1, Act II, Act III. Saint Exupéry followed his imagination as if improvising a bedtime story over many nights. The result is a wistful, naive philosophical fable with very little action.
If you’ve never read it, it’s about a French pilot, like Saint Exupéry himself, who makes an emergency landing in the desert and encounters a magical child from another world. They talk about wonder and love, finding beauty and meaning, what lasts and what is ephemeral, all the essential things that cannot be seen, that we forget when we become adults. Other characters include a rose, a sheep, a fox, a snake, a businessman, a railroad switchman, an astronomer, miniature volcanoes and baobabs.
It’s playful and funny, but also sad: about life and death, loneliness, saying goodbye, letting go, and being thankful for what is lost.
The story spirals dreamily through these themes, almost hypnotic, and all the more fascinating because Saint Exupéry seems to have foretold his own destiny: 5 years after writing it, his plane vanished in mysterious circumstances.
Here’s a quick passage from the next-to-last chapter:
“The thing that is important is the thing that is not seen.”
“Yes, I know.”
“It is just as it is with the flower. If you love a flower that lives on a star, it is sweet to look at the sky at night. All the stars are abloom with flowers.”
“Yes, I know.”
“It is just as it is with the water… what you gave me to drink was like music. You remember how good it was.”
“Yes, I know.”
“And at night you will look up at the stars. Where I live everything is so small that I cannot show you where my star is to be found. My star will be one of the stars for you. And so, you will love to watch all the stars in the heavens. They will all be your friends. And besides I am going to make you a present.” He laughed again.
“Ah little prince, dear little prince, I love to hear that laughter.”
“That is my present, just that. It will be as it was when we drank the water.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“All men have stars,” he answered. “But they are not the same things for different people. For some who are travelers the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others who are scholars they are problems. For my businessman they are wealth. But all these stars are silent. You, you alone will have the stars as no one else has them.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“In one of the stars I shall be living, in one of them I shall be laughing. And so, it will be as if all the stars are laughing and when you look at the sky at night, you, only you, will have stars that can laugh.” And he laughed again. “And when your sorrow is comforted, time soothes all sorrows, you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me and you will sometimes open your window so, for that pleasure, and your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky. Then you will say to them yes, the stars always make me laugh. And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you.” And he laughed again. “It will be as if in place of the stars I had given you a great number of little bells, that knew how to laugh.” And he laughed again…
Saint Exupéry seems to speak to an innocent, vulnerable, wise part of himself as a parent would to a beloved child.
I’m listening to my mother’s voice and learning to parent myself…