By Brian Liu
Something that continues to be a great delight to me here is how often the academic components of our education overlap with the personal parts of our lives. The questions we ask in the academic setting typically have a profound connection to our personal lives. I want to recall one such experience I’ve had.
In my French tutorial, to aid us in the sometimes boring endeavor of studying French, we decided to translate a little bit of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. From it, we translated a selection describing the prince’s conversation with a very peculiar fox. The heart of their conversation struck me so much that I wrote a personal response to it:
I had never considered myself all that much of a disciplined person. I find sticking to routines a slippery endeavor; as if I was trying to hold onto, with bare hands, a newly caught fish, all wet and scaly.Yet after I read the dialogue between the Little Prince and the Fox in The Little Prince, I realized that routine is important because it is a way that man overcomes time.
Time, it seems, is the continuity of our existence. But this continuity is like sludge—each part indistinguishable from the other. It’s just one, monotonous sludge of reality. We succumb to this in that we lose orientation and we get kind of lost. We may begin to lose our ability to distinguish one special moment from another, one time of the day from another, on person from another.
I’ll get to how this relates to friendships, but I have to cover some more groundwork first.
Because of this “sludgeness”, routine is a way for us to overcome time: to put our feet on the ground and a compass in our hand. We know past from future and future from past, and we know that the present is all the more special. Routine is taking a marker into the sludge and giving it parts. For example, I know morning by virtue that I eat pancakes and bacon in the morning (and sure the sun rising, but let me finish my point.)
In The Little Prince, the fox bestows on the Prince the following wisdom: routines also help us make friends, because they bring people out from the sludge and into discernible and vivid reality. For example, when I set my time so that Saturday morning is when I have coffee with John, all of a sudden, Saturday morning becomes special and John becomes special because of this association. I can now, in a sense, recognize John by Saturday mornings. When Friday night comes around, my mind (which I try to order with routine—because routine not only orders time, but the mind), is suddenly filled with the anticipation (an experience of longing for the future—thereby making the future known) that I will meet John the next day.
By “ritualizing” time I have made both the time and the person special. They are now “visible” things. If you want to make friends, it seems, establish a routine with them. Designate a portion of sludge to devote to them. They will become unique to you and the taste of pancakes and bacon will become the sign of morning to you.
This blog post was addressed to my brother. In it was the delight that the education I am receiving not only teaches me how to translate French, but also how to make friends. The latter, I am imagining, is a lot more important. And for that I am grateful.