Time Wasted


Our Daily Correspondent

From The Little Prince.

When we got married, my husband and I knew we didn’t want to do anything elaborate: we had neither the money nor the inclination and, in any case, we wanted to get the wedding over with and begin the marriage. (Proper weddings, as any bridal magazine will tell you, take months of preparation.) So: we agreed on a date, got our license, I bought a suit, and we went to City Hall with our siblings and our two dearest friends.

After the ceremony, we took the subway uptown and met our families for lunch. I’d booked the upstairs dining room of a venerable French restaurant because I knew the food would be good, and everyone would feel comfortable. Like everything else about the wedding, I must admit I didn’t give it too much thought; I knew the day would be nice no matter what and, for my life’s sake, very much hoped it would not be the most important. 

But when people asked me where we were planning to have the lunch, and I told them, their eyes would light up. “But you know The Little Prince was written there!” they would say in delight. “How romantic! How perfect!” It was true: Saint-Exupery had written the iconic book while staying in what was then an artist friend’s atelier during the war—in the very space that is now the restaurant’s upstairs dining room. 

And we would smile and say, yes, what luck, we weren’t even thinking of that! 

Because the secret truth is, we have both always hated The Little Prince. Its whimsy and passion-play significance had always left my fiancé cold; I found the isolation of the book’s landscape deeply scary. Besides, I’ve never liked anything set in space. I’d read it as a child, of course, and later in French class, and I had watched the creepy cartoon version with a sort of horrified fervor. But my feeling had always been one of active aversion—the last theme I’d ever have chosen for a wedding. It’s not the sort of thing one takes pleasure in disliking; the love people feel for that book is pure and real, and if I could love it, I would. I think we both feel that way; we certainly laughed ruefully together about the coincidence. (To the extent that people laugh ruefully in real life, that is.) 

At a certain point before the wedding, I found myself in a bookstore, and I thought, I’d better get a copy of The Little Prince. I thought it would be funny to produce it amid the toasts and read a quote aloud—the sort of cheesy quote people put on their yearbook pages or on tote bags—and we’d tell everyone about our shared aversion to the book, and it would be charming and irreverent and show how well matched we were, or something. It wouldn’t be a real reading—that would be something of great significance, and very personal and surprising, and maybe unsentimental. I bought it, and I stuck it in my bag, and I forgot about it until the day before the wedding. I read it through that night.

I had it in my bag—the bag with my makeup and my bouquet and my ID—and when I stood up, my hands were shaking. Here is the part I read:

The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.

“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”

And the roses were very much embarrassed.

“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you—the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose. 

And he went back to meet the fox.

“Goodbye,” he said.

“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

“It is the time I have wasted for my rose—” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.

“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose …”

“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

And by the end, of course, I was crying.

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.