Forty years ago, John Lennon, in his Christmas melody song “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” wished everyone:
So this is Xmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear
As 2015 comes to a close, the world is looking ahead to the New Year with hopes of a “good year without any fear.” We are living in times of great dissensus, when differences of opinion are turning emotionally and ultimately, physically violent.
Sixty years ago, a book published posthumously in French, with the title of “Un Sens à la Vie,” grouped several memorable quotes and meaningful messages by the French writer, poet and pioneering aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. He was both a war and literary hero to a generation of Frenchmen during World War II, and remains a hero in France and to many Americans today still. He hated his own period with all his heart for he thought it was “a decadent society” in “the age of publicity and the point system of totalitarian governments and armies without flags or bugles or services for their dead.” His thought of the German aggression was: “What good will it do to win this war if we then face a century-long crisis of revolutionary epilepsy?” And doesn’t that apply today? Suppose, he lived today and experienced the Paris terror attacks, what would he have thought of these times?
Saint-Exupéry loved people. To him, “each individual is an empire”; and he was a master at invading these empires with an army of words that poured out of the heart. “Horror causes men to clench their fists, and in horror men join together.” His answer to facing aggression was: “If we want to come to grips with what is universal in war we must forget such things as opposing camps and we must avoid arguing over ideologies… Do not insist that your beliefs are evidence of the truth, for in that case, is not each of us right? …We must put aside the passions and beliefs that divide us.
“A sense of Life,” the English translation of “Un Sens à la Vie” by Adrienne Foulke, was published in 1965 by Funk & Wagnalls. The book was not reprinted and despite scarcity in locating good copies, is still very reasonably priced. It is a very rare compilation of previously unpublished writings indeed. Now more than ever this collection of center-pieces of Saint-Exupéry’s most philosophical writings, resonate home.
The author is better known for his beloved child’s classic Le Petit Prince (the Little Prince.) The novella is both the most-read and most-translated book in the French language and has been translated into more than 250 languages and dialects. Annual sales still top two million copies with past sales totaling over 140 million copies worldwide. In fact it is one of the best-selling books ever published.
Saint-Exupéry was killed during the Second World War while flying for the Free French Air Force. He strongly believed that time, year after year, slowly shapes humanity: “A civilization is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries, elements difficult at times to justify by logic, but justifying themselves as paths when they lead somewhere, since they open up for man his inner distance.”
Four hundred years or so ago, William Shakespeare’s New Year’s wish to humanity was “Come, gentlemen, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness.” In a similar fashion Saint-Exupéry’s advised: “We must put aside the passions and beliefs that divide us.” John Lennon’s voice still rings “Let’s hope it’s a good one without any fear.”