Last Saturday a group of 50 people gathered in the Chapel to bury a woman who was about to turn 105. Because the woman’s faith had travelled so many miles over her century, from doubt to devotion and back again, it seemed false to squeeze her memorial service into an Episcopal liturgy. So we set up a circle of chairs around a free-standing altar, placed her ashes in a pottery jar, lit candles, and together held a Quaker Meeting to celebrate her life.
The stories people told about her were funny and poignant, even scandalous—her personal trainer met her at the gym until she was 102… as a 10-year-old she drove the car so her father, an Episcopal priest, could make pastoral visits in rural Virginia… she offered relationship counseling to a grandson in his 20’s… and when no longer able walk, she asked a caregiver to “carry her to that little stone church, so that she could go home.”
Everyone spoke about what a good friend she had been. “She never knew a stranger. She made you part of the circle. She asked how you were doing. She looked you in the eyes.”
One person read an excerpt from The Little Prince. “The fox asked, ‘Are you looking for chickens?’ ‘No’ said the little prince. ‘I am looking for friends. What does that mean—‘tame’?’ ‘It is an act too often neglected,’ said the fox. ‘It means to establish ties.’ ‘To establish ties’? (asked the little prince).”
“‘Just that,’ said the fox. ‘To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But it you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in the world. To you, I shall be unique in the world… if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful it will be when you have tamed me. The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…”
“The fox gazed at the little prince for a long time. ‘Please—tame me!’ he said. ‘I want to, very much,’ the little prince replied. ‘But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.’”
“’One only understands the things that one tames,’ said the fox. ‘Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready-made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me…’ ‘What must I do, to tame you?’ asked the little prince. ‘You must be very patient,’ replied the fox. ‘First you will sit down at a little distance from me—like that—in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…’”
“So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near—‘Ah,’ said the fox, ‘I shall cry.’ ‘It’s your own fault,’ said the little prince. ‘I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you…’ ‘Yes, that is so,’ said the fox. ‘But now you are going to cry!’ said the little prince. ‘Yes, that is so,’ said the fox. ‘Then it has done you no good at all!’ ‘It has done me good,’ said the fox, ‘because of the color of the wheat fields…” My 104 year old friend who died knew that each of us is like that little fox, longing to be seen and known. The world needs us to tame each other.
No shop is selling friendship this December, but we need it now more than ever. So instead of rushing about, why not give someone new a few moments of your time? Start a friendship. There’s no telling how long you will know each other, and as in all relationships, someday you will part. But we were made for each other… and like the light shining on an otherwise ordinary manger of wheat, once you have loved an unlikely stranger, you’ll carry something golden with you always.