We are having an exceptionally mild winter here in Northern California, almost like Arizona with its bright blue sky days and cool, comfortable nights. I go to the nearby park around lunch time most days just to sit on a bench in the sunshine and watch the world go by.
Part of this world is a scattering of squirrels, which is like a flock only zanier. These little creatures are in a constant state of agitation, high on adrenaline for the least hint of a threat from leashed dogs walking down pathways to small children running recklessly across the grass.
I push out the thought that squirrels are part of the rodent family and instead enjoy their darting and climbing and sniffing. Even when their bodies are frozen in attention, their fluffy tails are in constant motion, signaling like semaphores to each other and the world at large.
The other day I picked up a bag of peanuts at the grocery store and now as I sit on the bench, I make chirpy noises to attract their attention. First, I toss out a few peanuts for their delectation. They circle warily but finally succumb to the nutty aroma. Slowly, I lure them closer and closer.
Today one is brave enough to come and take the peanut out of my hand. His tiny paw is so thin, his long nails like little dark needles. While the other squirrels frantically dart back and forth in indecision, he places his paw ever so lightly on my finger, then delicately takes the nut in his mouth – then runs away.
The exchange reminded me of the passage in “The Little Prince” when the fox explains to the Prince how to tame him and when I came home I dug out my book to refresh my memory.
“You have to be very patient,” the fox answered. “First you’ll have to sit down a little ways away from me, over there, in the grass. I’ll watch you out of the corner of my eye, and you won’t say anything…. But day by day, you’ll be able to sit a little closer… If you come (every day) at four in the afternoon, I’ll begin to be happy by three. The closer it gets to four, the happier I’ll feel. By four I’ll be all excited and worried; I’ll discover what it costs to be happy! But if you come at any old time, I’ll never know when I should prepare my heart….”
Even after all these years that part always brings a tear to my eye. Isn’t there a part of all of us that wants to be tamed, that wants to trust, to transcend the fear that living can bring. Remember that old saying, the first cut is the deepest. All of us at some point – maybe in our childhood, maybe in our teens – first experience the reality of life. We discover the cost of happiness.
Perhaps it is the betrayal by a close friend, the loss of a parent or a loved one, the injustice of an accusation. All future pain finds its way back to that original one for that is when we lost our innocence. Until then we were the golden child and naively believed we would never be hurt.
Because we didn’t want to be surprised or disappointed by life again, many of us withdrew a little from it, put up a shell so that arrows would not go in so deep. We loved but not completely, we trusted but had a back-up plan, just in case. Like the fearful squirrels at the park we edged into life, then retreated, edged forward, snatched, retreated.
In our insecurity we sought to be the tamer rather than the tamed. We wanted others to trust us, to love us, to make us feel safe. We wanted to be the one who could leave rather than risk being the one who was left. But being the tamer has its own price. “Men have forgotten this truth, said the fox. But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
The people we ask to love us, the children we bear, the confidences we invite, the promises we make, the gifts we accept, the trust we encourage … all of these actions which make us happy require repayment in the form of responsibility. We must be trust worthy.
Now that I have started to feed the squirrels it is only a matter of time before I tame them. I will follow the advice of the fox and come everyday at the same time so that they will look forward to my presence. When they see someone sitting on the bench they will be reminded of me.
“Wheat fields say nothing to me which is sad. But you have hair the color of gold. So it will be wonderful, once you’ve tamed me! The wheat, which is golden, will remind me of you. And I’ll love the sound of the wind in the wheat…”
Picture from The Little Prince