“You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in The Little Prince
Years ago. When things were generally tougher. Confusing. And certainly darker. On a foreign porch we sat, parting.
This was something given to me. A little lesson, like a thought or a light. I turn to it all the time, marvel at how it fits into everything.
I honestly can’t remember if we were still on that porch or if this came later. But the porch matters, so in my memory we’re there.
You don’t ever think about what it means to have tamed something, let alone what to do with it. Perhaps due to Shakespeare, we think of taming as something more like refinement, like grinding a gloss onto a stone. But it’s far more simple than that.
Let someone learn to love you, even in the smallest of ways, and you become responsible for her.
Late at night. When things were generally better. Confusing still. But lighter. And she asked me if she should take a chance on me.
This was also something given to me. It was not something I took lightly. I, in fact, asked for time to consider it, to mull over what it would mean to be responsible, forever, for her. She’s not the kind of person you want to let down anyway. But to let someone down and to forget that you’re responsible for someone are two very different things.
In the end, I asked her to take that chance, because by this point I already knew that what was given to me on that porch so many years ago was maybe the one thing I’ve been here to learn all this time.
Though there is, of course, a corollary lesson. If you are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed, then you should take great care in that which you tame.
Or, to put it differently: love openly, but take care with the love that is returned to you.
If you put food in a bowl and set the bowl outside for a stray cat and the cat eats from your bowl, the cat is returning your love. There are millions of bowls and even less risk in starvation.
There are six newborn kittens behind a dresser in our apartment right now. They are there because I chose to be responsible for their mother, because I gave her a bowl of food and she ate from it. They are there because I am responsible for her. Forever. And as I am for her, I am for them.
And though I can’t abide the idea of have ten cats in our little apartment, I equally cannot abide shirking my responsibility.
I go for walks, some days, with the woman from the porch. I will soon be husband to the woman who took a chance on me. I have let them, and others, love me, and am I responsible for them. Just as I am for the six tiny kittens. Just as I am for their mum. Just as I am for our other cats.