There are many things it would have been useful to know back then..
I was a cute kid, light brown hair with bright, wide open eyes, curious about everything, trusting about a lot more. I was a first born so for the first four years of my life I was Le Petit Prince, the centre of attention and the focus of everything – except that for the first five years I didn’t speak. I don’t know why. I was bright, inquisitive, played inside and outside the home with brave abandon. I just didn’t communicate in the dimension we call language.
Maybe I was scared, fearful of something deep inside. Afraid of being wrong, of mistakes that I wasn’t fully conscious of, but knew I could make if I wasn’t careful. I think I was told I was wrong a lot, but that could be a retrospectively imposed memory because I was told off a lot later. I think I was happy, but I can’t be sure which probably says it all.
For more than fifty years I have stored my only memory of this period in my life. I have a recollection – in fact, more than that, a dramatic video clip in my head of me on a tricycle pedalling furiously around the block where we lived in Southend, trying to get home before the storm broke. The black clouds were gathering like bullfrogs in the sky above and that heavy feeling in the air that gathers before a thunderstorm was pressing down on me. I could hear a distant rumble, like a chest of drawers being pulled forcibly across next door’s landing. The first spots of rain started to fall out of the sky and my urge to get home or at least out of the storm led me to propel the pedals faster. I was no more than a street away yet I felt as if I had accidentally drifted into a foreign country. I started crying, still pedalling furiously, in an attempt to beat the storm, to keep ahead of it, to work harder in order to beat it. But however hard I turned the wheels of my tricycle, I could not overtake the storm. The clouds opened, the rain fell, the thunder tumbled out of the sky and the lightning whipped across my retinas in a way I hadn’t experienced before. It was my first storm. I didn’t know that it wasn’t the end of the world. It would have been good to have been told that.
Earlier today I learned some lines by rote to use them in a minor drama. I learned them assiduously in order to be able to perform a two-handed piece with a friend who had also learned his lines. The cues were important. I assembled the script in my head. I could recite it word for word perfectly. In rehearsal I could speak and act like Gielgud – with no hesitation. When it came to it in front of an audience, my mind went blank in the middle of the piece – almost as if a piece of my brain had decided to bolt for the door. Afterwards, I realised that I had unconsciously gone back to when I was six at Bournemouth Park Junior School in Southend where I was performing T.S. Eliot’s Macavity the Mystery Cat in its entirety on stage. I lost my way half way through and was castigated in a most unpleasant way for it by my class teacher. Since then, I have had a block about performing learned lines on stage. I have excused this by saying that I am a free spirit, that lines represent restraints, that I am an improviser, a spontaneous speaker, a kind of frontiersman of the performing world. That’s why I have worked in radio. No script. That’s why I have been a teacher. No script. That’s why I love to speak unrehearsed on stage to anyone who will listen. No script. My life as a whole has been lived without a script. All because a misguided Mrs Squeers gave me a hard time when I was six years old.
No script, ergo no safety net, no balance wheels, no seat belt, no contingency plan, no pension, does make for a more interesting life. But having cues simply means you can ignore them if you want to. Maybe I went off the rails because the rails resembled lines. ‘You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.‘
Now that the six year old me and I have got acquainted, here are some things that I could share with him.
Just to make him feel a little better.
You are loved, little guy. There is no-one else in the world like you. You will give a whole lot of pleasure to a lot of people before you’re done. You will make mistakes but these won’t matter that much, not compared with the good you’ll do. All those mistaken ideas about not being worth very much are wrong. They were put into you by people who were damaged themselves. In fact, you’re priceless. Priceless in a way that might lead to people dying for you, perhaps even God himself. The love that you missed out on as a kid will be made up to you many times over, because you will hand it out plentifully to others. You will make an integral and unique difference to other people’s lives. You will brighten up many people’s days, every day. You will feel the black heart of other’s prejudices and blame yourself before understanding that it is their heart, not yours, that is hurt. You will have a place that you can call home in your own heart. You will cry, you will despair, but you will never be worthless. You will think you’ve failed, but that will just be another step towards success. You may feel lost, but that will just be exploration. You may feel like you have gone down dead ends but these will be just be paths less trodden. You will experience fear, but it will seem much better when you call it excitement instead. You will feel driven, but you will realise that no-one can drive like you, and it was you driving all along. Your ambition will feel out of reach until you understand that it is your ambition and you can do what you like with it. You will feel like a failure, but you will also feel like another hug, and have that instead. You will find out that the difference between depression and happiness is just a raising of the eyes from the ground into the eyes of another and smiling. Anything you decide to do will be your decision, even though you may feel guided by someone one else. There is no-one to blame. But the credit belongs to you as well. All of it. However hard you try, you will never stop being a human being of infinite worth.
You are now and will always be loved, little Prince.