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On roses and the people who love them: la rose du prince

There are no thorns on my rose.

The pedals have withered and dried and their colour has faded with time.

Brittle creases of pale pink are all that remain.

Find,

the rationale that caused you to pull it from its home and call it “mine”.

 

Possession is a strange word and an even stranger idea. By definition it suggests that there is a state of having or owning. It is most frequently used when one is listing off their material belongings, “That is my house”, “This is my car”, or “God damn! I look good in my new clothes!” In this context, possession is something that is bought. We trade money for the luxury of owning things, we collect them, rent additional space just to store them, judge people on the things they own, and, even more so, the things they don’t own. Yet, this is not the only way to view possession. It can be something altogether more organic, such as, “These are my children” or “This is my partner”. In this case these people are understood through their relationship to someone else. This is where the difference between having and owning becomes paramount. It is a terrible shame to try and control and/or own another person in your life, whereas it is an unparalleled privilege and an honour to have someone in your life. The line that separates these two perspectives can never again become as muddled as it has in our past.

 

I possess a rose and a rose possesses me.

 

Above is a statement concerning what I have. Be that as it may, it could very well be construed into that which I own, as a rather common way of possessing a rose in our modern era is to first commit some sort of borderline unforgivable act, and to then purchase a rose, or many roses (depending on the severity of the act), in order to seek forgiveness. Quite frankly, this is the only feasible rationale for owning a rose, an attempt at inciting some sort of emotional reaction. My qualm with this is that the emotional reaction is very rarely horror, for example, the horror of watching a rose shrivel and die on your counter-top. On the contrary, it is usually met with thanks and appreciation. I suppose, being the products of a capitalist society, we have been led to believe that the natural world can be bought, owned, and exchanged on a whim, so long as it evokes a positive human response – no matter how short-lived.

 

An idea that I explored at length in my Master’s thesis is whether or not human beings can express emotion towards the natural world. Can a human care for the natural world to the same extent that they can care for another human? Can a plant become that important to someone? This notion would entail the equal treatment of all life on the planet, without the descending hierarchy of human and then animal and plant life. A ludicrous and even laughable idea to the purchasers of roses, those occupants of the universe referred to by the prince as les grandes personnes.  

 

Some of you may be familiar with the children’s story Le Petit Prince and if not, you ought to be, don’t worry you can find it in English too. As a French teacher of mine once said to a student who protested that they did not enjoy the book, « Well you must not have understood it ». I tend to agree, it seems like an impossible story to dislike. It is the story of an interplanetary traveler, the prince, who arrives on earth when the narrator’s plane crashes in the Sahara desert. The author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, regales the reader with the tales of the prince’s adventures after leaving his planet, Asteroid 325. In this allegorical story, the prince meets a variety of different characters, adults and animals, who personify some of the uglier qualities of les grandes personnes, highlighting the fact that, as people grow up, they lose sight of imagination, creativity, empathy, and even, quite frankly, joy. This does not seem to be the same for animals, however. The prince seems like this sort of idealist dreamer, but raises plenty of counterarguments to defend the way that he perceives the important qualities of life in our universe. It is perhaps not entirely by chance that his most profound of realizations come to him through a conversation with a fox.

 

First, to contextualize, the prince fell rather haphazardly into a relationship with a rose that grew on his planet. He leaves this rose after a slight falling out between the two of them, but the longer he travels, and therefore stays away from his rose, the more he thinks about it and the guiltier he feels about having left it – he ultimately realizes that he misses the rose, his rose. I think it is even quite fair to say that the prince loved his rose.

 

The prince speaks to the fox after first stumbling upon an entire garden of roses on Earth, which leads him to believe that his rose, that he has cared about and missed for so long, was no longer special. It was, in fact, just like every other rose. However, the fox explains that the rose on his planet is more important to the prince than any other rose that has ever grown in the universe, for the very simple reason that the rose he cares about is his. It is due to their relationship, the unique experiences that the two of them shared, that he cares so deeply for his rose. The efforts of the prince at the beginning of the story were endless to try and please/protect his rose. He watered it, protected it with a glass barrier, and picked off caterpillars that would have eaten it – leaving only one so that his rose could see a butterfly. The prince was attentive to the consequences of his actions and to the needs of his rose.

 

This idea of loving natural life in one’s own local context is a very powerful idea. The memories that we have, although maybe we don’t always think about it, are directly shaped by the natural landscape that we experienced them in. With every fond memory of our youth, we could quite naturally associate it with its surrounding environment. The memories of playing out back in the woods behind your childhood home with your older brother would not have existed without the forest. It is also important to remember that those summers spent skateboarding in one's youth would never have happened without the resulting pavement of our society’s urban sprawl. We, the human race, are not independent of nature, we are the result of it and our actions constantly influence it in return. We are all in an ever-changing relationship with nature, unfortunately for us though, there is nothing you can buy for a rose when you want to say “sorry”.

 

Case and point, we do not own the natural world, we have the privilege of it being in our lives. I take the side of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, more precisely the side of the little prince, for I too have a rose that is mine. The prince and I share a few similarities in that this rose of mine would not exist without me, I have strong feelings towards this rose, and it took me a long time to realize to what extent this rose was important in my life. There is, however, one small difference.

Today, this is all that is left of my rose. A fragile reminder of what I once had. You see, unlike the troubles in the distant worlds created by Saint-Exupéry, those that threatened my rose could not be prevented by myself alone. This was all I could salvage, a single flower. For me, it has become symbolic of the degrading state of the world around us and the increasingly drastic effort required to hold on to it. Nevertheless, we must keep trying. For the future of roses. For the love of princes and princesses to come.

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