The joyous thing about teaching is that you get to inflict on your students all the things you love most. For me, that meant lots of French literature and poetry. Some appreciated it, some did not, all endured it. With the third year students we read Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. I read it in school but it had been years since I had re-read it and the change in both my understanding of the world and of French meant that this time it was even better. The story is melancholy, yes, but also witty and sarcastic, things I missed the first time around. (Confession: I also really like melancholy things. Nothing makes me happier than a good cry at the end of a book or movie. Hence, a decision to study French Literature. Spoiler alert – they die every time. No matter the story, it ends beautifully badly for everyone involved if the author is French.)
I am pretty sure at least half of my juniors thought the story was stupid. By pretty sure, I mean they told me so. But in the other half, at least several of them genuinely liked it and that is enough. One of the central themes in the story is the conflict between adult and child views of importance, the quantitative vs. the qualitative, the concrete vs. the abstract. The little prince spends the book struggling his way towards understanding of what it means to live, to grow up, and to love. His view of the world is childlike, beautiful, and pure. In the beginning of the book the little prince talks about how he likes to watch sunsets to cheer him up when he is sad. Because his planet is tiny, this means just moving his chair to see a sunset when one ends. One day, he explains, he watched 43 sunsets because “when you are very sad you like to watch the sun set.”
Since rereading Le Petit Prince, I think of this every time I see a sunset, although I have decided that they aren’t just something we love when we are sad, but also when we are happy, hopeful, uncertain, in love, or upset. There is something eternally comforting in watching the day surrender into color and knowing that it will begin again in just a few hours.