What is essential? To you, to your family, to the world? Are you essential?
During this government shut down, that’s a question very much on the minds of employees on furlough. Those who are “essential” must come in and work, those who are not cool their heels at home. Who knows when anyone will get paid.
Outside of the realm of shutdowns, you’ll find that word used notably in quite another context – the internationally beloved book “The Little Prince.” On his trip from his tiny asteroid home, he learns from his friend the fox that one important secret to life is the following:
“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.”
With that in mind, the Little Prince would take exception (to say the least) with our current interpretation of “essential.”
The book illustrates its central lesson with examples – like how the wheat is filled with the meaning for the fox because it resembles the Prince’s hair. The stars are filled with meaning once the narrator knows that the Prince is somewhere up there laughing among them.
A being, meanwhile, becomes essential to another once they have taken the time to “tame” each other. The fox and the Prince tame each other and the Prince also has such a relationship with a rose that grows on his asteroid. The special nature of the rose is not visible but nevertheless it is more meaningful than a garden of roses.
“People where you live, the little prince said, grow five thousand roses in one garden… Yet they don’t find what they’re looking for… And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose.”
Here is where “essential” in both “The Little Prince” and the government shut down collide. The whole reason for the shut down is that the president would like to build a wall along the Southern border and is willing to do anything to get it. This wall would keep out asylum-seekers, bedraggled masses who are seem to represent the most inessential beings imaginable.
But if he would have ever read “The Little Prince” – which is unlikely, since it does not feature his name – he might realize that those masses have an essential nature that we can’t see. They are essential to each other, to people at home, to people here, in ways we just don’t know.
And every government worker is essential, too – not just because our country is hurting without them, but also because they are more than their jobs and they are more than bargaining chips. They are essential, Americans are essential, non-Americans are essential, refugees are essential. We all make the world better and more meaningful for someone.
How amazing it would be if we all took the time to “tame” each other, making the world beyond our borders meaningful to us, too.