‘Every now and then a man's mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.’
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Atlantic Monthly, Volume II
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‘Once upon a time, there lived a little prince on a planet barely larger than he, and who needed a friend.’
But Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novel does not begin like this, for such a sentence would have discouraged non-children from reading it.
Non-children, though they tend to be big in size, are afraid of big horizons; they need the safe confines of the useful, the concrete, the factual. So, let us tell this story differently:
‘Once upon a time, there lived a boy on Asteroid B-612, a planet whose dimensions allowed for only him to live on it, and a rose.’
On this planet, the child could watch the sun set as many times as he wanted, simply by moving his chair a few steps to the right. One day, he watched it set forty-four times; he was feeling sad that day. Sunsets can cheer a sad person up. A non child would not understand that.
Non children live on a planet and in a world in which the sun only sets once a day. Sometimes they miss even that, and sometimes, do not notice that they did. Perhaps the bigger a person becomes, the smaller the horizon does.
It does not have to. A story for non children:
‘Once upon 1998, the International Space Station was launched from the earth into low orbit. Two years later, humans boarded it.’
(And because non children like the useful, the concrete, and the factual,)
‘The station travels at a speed of 27,700 kilometres per hour, resulting in a full trip around the planet every 92 minutes. Thus, in 24 hours, the 6 astronauts on board the station could see 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets,’
if they look out the window.
32 moments of happiness a day. The horizon is the same. It is simply the children and non children who see it differently.
‘Only with the heart can one see rightly; the essential is invisible to the eye.’
What is essential is also a decision, like looking out the window.
Once upon 2002 (for the non children), I went on a journey with a child who turned carboard boxes into spaceships. Colored crêpe paper to rainbows. Bits of paper into drawings; the most precious art I ever owned.
We explored distant lands as we rode back and forth on rocking horses. Stopped to look out of windows, kaleidoscopes, telescopes, and beyond walls on which a nightlight projected the stars and moon. He could make the walls vanish.
‘How old is the Little Prince? We never do find out. We know he has hair of gold. That his laugh is like the sparkle of the stars. That he loves a rose. That he tamed a wise fox and made him his friend.’
And that today is his birthday.
Happy birthday, little prince. Today, I hope that you watch as many sunrises and sunsets as there are minutes. I will only get two from where I stand, but will stop for both, I promise. And I will always love you.