I’ve been reading children’s books published around the turn of the twentieth century, and it surprises me how philosophical and mystical so many are, including two books I remember from my own childhood. One book, The Little Lame Prince, I remember reading several times; I even remember where it was place on the shelf in the public library. Years later, I went looking for the book in that library and couldn’t find it. Back then, I thought that libraries kept all books ad infinitum, but now I know that simply is not feasible. I must have told my mother about the book, because one day when I was in my forties, she handed me a red book and told me, all smiles, “Look what I found at a yard sale.”
Yep. The Little Lame Prince. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t impressed with the book. After all, it was a children’s book and whatever I had gleaned from it when I was young no longer seemed relevant. I don’t know what happened to the book. I’m sure I gave it away as I do with all my books once they’ve been read to saturation, though now I wish I had the book if only because my mother had thought of me when she saw it.
Now, oddly, the book seems relevant again. Or at least interesting from a scholarly point of view. The book is about — ta da! — a little lame prince. The author in no way panders to the child, either the character or the child who is reading the book, but instead instills in him the need to accept what he can’t change, that comfort came by seeing “the plain hard truth in all its hardness, and thus letting him quietly face it.” Such an odd sentiment (without being sentimental) for an old children’s book, but oh, so true! It’s what I’ve been saying about grief: it’s important to face it, to feel what you are feeling, and for others to let you feel the harshness of grief without their trying to cajole you into a better frame of mind.
Something else that struck me is the sentence: “The plan of this world is infinite similarity and yet infinite variety.” It’s something we know without actually thinking about. We know all snowflakes are alike and yet all are different. We know all leaves are alike in their leafness, and yet all are different. In such a way, all people are alike, too. I mean, if you see a person, you know immediately it’s a human being and not a starling or a star (of the celestial type). It’s this similarity and variety that makes it seem as if everyone grieves differently, when in fact, there is great similarity in the grief cycles of those suffering from the death of a spouse.
The other children’s book that particularly struck a chord was The Lost Prince. (Hmm. There seems to be a princely pattern here.) This book is very Zen or Buddhist or anyway, not a typical western way of thinking. The lost prince was brought up to think good thoughts, to be good, to find balance and peace in silence so that he can connect to “the Thought that thought the world.”
It shouldn’t surprise me that this sort of thinking didn’t mean anything in particular to me when I was so very young and reading these books for the first time. It’s possible I understood the message, but it seemed no different from any other message I gleaned from a book; when one is new, all ideas are new and all are treated the same. It’s only as we get older and supposedly wiser that we categorize ideas and things and people, which seems a very unwise thing to do.
It’s also possible that a steady diet of such books at a young age helped create my own rather mystical bent, or at least compounded it.
Whatever the truth of me, my mind, or these books, it’s definitely been a interesting experience, rereading these books and seeing in them the philosophies that helped formed my own life.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator