Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Crashing to Earth

Fiction can take us on journeys we might never experience any other way. As well as armchair travels to exotic and mundane locations, we might embark on philosophical journeys that can give us insights into problems and questions. Antoine St.-Exupery's The Little Prince is both a form of armchair travel and a philosophical discourse. Both of main characters, the prince and the pilot, are travelers who have crashed. The prince's crash is figurative while the pilot actually does crash in the Sahara. They also also crash into each other, arriving on converging trajectories. The knowledge that they gain from this collision allows each of them to reconfigure their relationships.

The Little Prince is one of my favorite books, so when we had the chance to see a staging of it at Parkland College, I jumped at the opportunity to go. I loved the way computer generation created images while the pilot was drawing. The acting was good for community theater and we had unexpectedly run into friends so we were all sitting together enjoying the performance.

At the end of the first act, disaster struck in the form of another crash. This time, though, it was all too real and immediate. Peter tripped at the end of the aisle, fell and dislocated his shoulder. The EMTs arrived, assessed his condition, and called an ambulance. For the theatergoers, a short intermission lengthened considerably. The plan to go out with our friends after the performance evaporated.

We spent hours in emergency while doctors tried to get Peter's shoulder back in place. After shots to numb his shoulder and to make him relax, the doctors tried various methods, including hanging a 20-pound weight from his arm, to reverse the dislocation. Eventually we were able to go home but it was late and we were both exhausted. This was a journey we would have gladly foregone. Unlike the dislocation of the pilot and the prince, the main lessons we took from the experience was to look carefully when exiting a row in a theater and it is hard to relax your muscles when a doctor is trying to push your shoulder back together. Perhaps another lesson is always carry your iPad since you never know when you will be stranded for hours and will need the emotional release provided by playing angry birds.

We didn't get to see the end of the play so we don't know how the fate of the rose was handled. We never saw the fox, who provides the wise insights and advice. But I do have the book, in French, so I can go back and reread it. Saint-Exupery disappeared on a flight over the Mediterranean the year after the book was published in 1943. After decades of searching, his plane was found a couple of years ago. He had sustained so many injuries from crashes over his career as a pilot that flying was becoming difficult. Actually, just getting around was becoming difficult. He might, it has been thought, have wanted die in just this way, while doing what he loved best. Crashing to Earth held no terrors for him. It had happened so often that it was interwoven into his life experiences.

As you get older, health issues can bring you crashing down. As well as seeing my mother decline, we have started to have our share of health problems. But we hope to manage not to crash for a long time because, unlike Saint-Exupery but like the pilot and perhaps the little prince, there is still a lot for us to see and learn. After all, we might have our own encounter with a wise, clever fox.

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