Jesus said that one must be like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven. St. Nikolai Melivirovich also says, “What kind of advantage do children have over adults? They have three advantages: in faith, in obedience and in forgiveness.”
Anyone can understand that being like a child means being humble, simple, needful, implicitly trusting, questioning. There’s this book called The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry– a children’s book for adults. It is one of the most cherished books I know, and I’d like it to remain precious. So I will tread lightly. It seems appropriate to bring up a children’s story that in turn can shed simple, and yet profound, light on the Incarnation and what it has to do with us as normal people. In the story, a pilot crashes in the Sahara desert and meets a little prince who is exploring the universe. The prince tells him of adults who inhabit planets, including a geographer, a business man, and so on. These adults are alone; they have forgotten what it means to imagine, to live with one another, and to learn from one another. Their lives are invested in abstract concerns.But upon visiting another planet, the little prince meets a fox. He and the fox become friends, and he learns from the fox that love is about taming someone.
When you tame someone else, you choose them and have to take responsibility for that love. “Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” This love may make you weep at times, but you have made a friend. You have loved and been loved. (This is only a small part of the book. Please read it all. There’s my plug).
Without one another, we are wild. When we live alone−maybe not always literally, but emotionally−we become sick like a dog with rabies. You can’t see clearly when you’re wild or agitated because you’re motive is to survive. Unsettled. Defensive. When a dog has rabies, you can actually see the madness in their eyes. They can’t interact in a real or safe environment with other dogs or people. The little prince asks to play with the fox, but “I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I’m not tamed.”
The little prince says: “I’m looking for friends. What does that mean—tame?”
“It’s an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”
“To establish ties?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “to me, you’re still nothing more than a little boy who’s just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I’m nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you’ll be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world …”
My flat rep tells us two people committed suicide on campus within the last week. He says, “Halfway through her bottle of pills, one girl called the ambulance because she decided she didn’t want to die, but by the time they got there, they were five minutes too late.” “We’re supposed to ‘watch out’ for you guys,” he tails with a careless grin. At university in London, someone’s business is their own– maybe even to this extent. Something I have appreciated about studying abroad this semester is there are less strict, less conservative social standards than at my home university. People don’t care what you do– if you smoke, drink, sleep around, finish your work on time. It’s not their business anyway. We’re supposed to be adults, right? But maybe a cost of leaving people to their own lives, their own choices, is that they’re also left to their own pain. Anne Lamott writes in her book, Operating Instructions: “Jesus has no arms but ours to do his work and show his love.”
I didn’t know the girl who died. I didn’t know her story or the circumstances. But I do know that leaving people be in the name of tolerance isn’t love. It’s a passive cruelty and a symptom of a sickly, individualistic society. It is an excuse for laziness, and people deserve much more: not judgment and not neglect but something beyond it all. Not black, not white, not even grey. They, we, need color– a vibrant and full hope– and someone willing to take responsibility and claim them.
This reflection will continue in my next post on Friday.