11 June 2009

'....if you want a friend, tame me'.

The only things you learn are the things you tame.
-the fox

I was first given the book the Little Prince for my seventh birthday. It quickly became one of my favourite books.

Over the years, I've loved it more and more. And over the years, every time I read it I get something new out of it. It speaks to me on so many levels.

When I was ten, my mother and I lived in a house where there was a copy of le petite prince, exactly the same as mine but French. For six months I carried both books around with me, constantly cross-referencing between them and building up my understanding of the book on a new level (and incidentally creating a lifelong love of cognates and false cognates in the process). As a result of that, I can still read the book in French today. I also have a reasonably good understanding of simple written French, though I can barely understand any when it's spoken (and French people often don't understand me when I try to speak it).

At different times in my life, different points of the book resonate with me. As a child, the discourse on differing perceptions of children and adults appealed to me. When I began studying Anthropology, the explanation of the Turkish astronomer illustrated the theory of Orientalism beautifully. When I struggled with addiction, the circular thinking of the drunkard illuminated starkly to me the choices I was making.

Some points I skimmed over years ago, not knowing the true depth of meaning until I had life experiences to match. Some points seem to imprint the same meaning over and over, but in ever-increasing ripples of deeper understanding and experience.

Many years ago I lent my original copy out, never to return. Other copies I have bought since are in a new translation. Knowing the text so well, it jars with me. But in itself that has been a new tool of understanding. It makes me ponder the meaning of certain words, and how some catch the heart in different ways to others.

When I experienced clinical depression, one phrase resonated deeply within me - "It is such a secret place, the land of tears". In the new translation, 'secret' is replaced with 'mysterious'. That changes things - my land of tears was certainly secret, but it wasn't mysterious. The line changes to show you the perspective of the observer, not the inhabitant - which, in context, is entirely right. But it does not capture the essence of what I originally felt when I grasped at that line. Now I have both meanings in hand, and it increases my understanding and application. Ripples in a pond.

When I came back from France I brought with me some postcards of the little prince. I gave one to Partner - the fox saying 'if you tame me, we will need each other'. It was how I felt - yet I had skimmed over how the incident with the fox ends. And the ending of that relationship was difficult. I felt for some time afterwards that I did not want to be tamed ever again. I no longer understood why anyone could want to be tamed. I could no longer remember how it was done. I revelled in my wildness and my freedom.

But the fox has come to me again recently. I met someone, a while ago now, while travelling. I felt a connection with him, and we developed a friendship. I enjoyed his company, and knew I'd like to see him again. Our connection is beautiful, and funny - special, and at the same time the most ordinary thing in the world. What is important about this connection is invisible.... In the end, we spent the night together before I left. I didn't worry about being tamed. I don't have any desire to grow something serious from it, in the usual sense. My journey is different from his, and our paths only connected for a few weeks. We didn't see each other again, had little contact, and never spoke of the incident, until eight months later.

Now we have spoken about it, and one thing is evident: that night we set our friendship on fire. We started something that we haven't got out of our systems yet. Since he is on the other side of the world, we can't at this point. But we are communicating regularly now. Our connection has deepened. And I find that I have been tamed.

I feel a sense of wonder at what is happening. I am surprised to find myself opening, doing things I couldn't imagine doing again, and enjoying it. I know if I am tamed by someone I like so much, there is danger. And there is certainly danger here, yet I am unafraid. I am the fox. I am willingly becoming tamed, knowing it must end, knowing the ending will hurt.

Now, finally, I understand again why we choose to make ephemeral connections, why we choose to become friends with people we may never see again. We do it for the colour of the wheat, for the memories of the laughter we shared. As the little prince said, "When you look up into the sky at night, since I'll be living on one of them, for you it will be as if all the stars are laughing. You'll have stars that laugh! And when you're consoled (and everyone eventually is consoled) you'll be glad you've known me. You'll always be my friend. You'll feel like laughing with me. And you'll open the window sometimes just for the fun of it...and your friends will be amazed to see you laughing while you're looking up at the sky."

To the fox, to tame meant to create ties, to mark one as special amongst all others and build trust over time through observing rites. It was essential for friendship. In that sense, I was tamed when we first spent time together. Of course it would have been simpler if we had never set the friendship on fire. But I have no regrets - now something has awakened within me, something that was sleeping, that I worried was dead. Something that I didn't want to lose. My friend is part of that awakening, and I am honoured by that essential something which is invisible. I am happy to share this with him.

I am learning again the secrets of the fox - why we ask to be tamed, knowing what that means, knowing how it ends, and yet still doing it, welcoming the joy and sorrow that go with it.

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