Thursday, April 07, 2016

Of Princes, Minecraft, and Matters of Consequence

This winter I read The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry with my eight year old son. If you haven't read it before, stop what you are doing and visit your public library, favourite bookstore, or online bookseller and get a copy now. There may be spoilers below.

We began reading The Little Prince in anticipation of the Canadian release of the new animated feature film. It easily became our favourite time of day as we snuggled up and followed the interplanetary adventures of the little prince who loved a flower. It opened the door to many discussions about life, love and growing up. We talked about looking after the little things before they become big things, like the baobab trees. We talked about vanity and addiction. It opened up my son's imagination, while for me it became a challenge and even a chastisement of the sad state of grown-ups so consumed with the opinion of others, image,  and matters of consequence, that the really important things in life are ignored.

And then we got the end of the story. I could barely read as the tears kept catching in my throat.  Finally I got through it and closing the book I looked up at my little prince's face. With tears streaming down his face he said, "You could have warned me it was going to end like that." And we both cried together. It was ugly and messy and beautiful. I tried to make excuses, "I forgot it ended that way...I didn't know...maybe I hadn't actually ever read to the end before," I told him. He looked betrayed. And we cried some more--he for the prince he grew to love, I for the pilot and his needling anxiety. If you ask him now he'll tell you he loved the story, through the wonder, the adventure and even the grief.

It didn't end there though.  My prince got out his tablet and spent weeks recreating the book in Minecraft. This was completely his own idea. He built all of the planets, (including the tippler's planet featuring a witch who drinks a poison potion) and he recreated the important scenes from the story. His avatar can walk around the universe he has created, and so now he has immersed himself in the story. This has given him an incredible ability to retell and comprehend the big ideas of the book. I have never before seen him engage at this level with a narrative and it may have even won me over to Minecraft (a little). I've posted some screen captures of his creation below.

Unfortunately we missed the opportunity to see the film. It was here for a week and then was pulled from theatres and sold to Netflix. While we are waiting for the Netflix debut I hope to read it again. This time en français avec ma petite princesse.

And so for today I am thankful for the truth revealed through fiction, bonding over books, and soaring imaginations. That's my two cents' worth. How about you? Is there a book you remember reading as a child? Has a story ever reduced you to tears? Is there a drop everything, go to the library,  book that everyone must read? Share in the comments below.

A penny for your thoughts?

(Created by S. Chisholm using Minecraft Pocket Edition. Photo credit C. Chisholm)

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Planted in Pennies

Pennies have pretty much become obsolete in Canada. They haven't minted the coins in almost four years. While they are still legal tender, cash transactions are now rounded to the nearest five cents. I suppose many would consider them worthless. If you were to see a penny on the sidewalk would you bother to stop to pick it up? Well, I do. Deliberately. Every time.

This habit began about twenty years when I read Annie Dillard's Pulitzer prize-winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Perrenial: New York, c1974, 1988). In her meditation on "Seeing" she writes,

The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But--and this is the point--who gets excited by a mere penny?... It is a dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won't stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. (p. 15)

One day, shortly after reading this for the first time, I was walking down the street in a small border town in New Brunswick. A car slowed to a stop beside me and an older gentleman  rolled down his window and stretched out his hand. "Here, you can have these," he said handing me a small handful of assorted coins, "They're of no use to me." A little bewildered I thanked him and he drove off toward the border where he would shortly leave Canada, and his need for our currency behind.  It couldn't have been more than a dollar, but it was pennies from heaven to me. It sealed on my heart that tiny blessings are everywhere if we have open eyes to see them and open hands to receive them.

I've been considering for some time if I should blog and if so, what I should write about. Time and again I am brought back to the idea of the penny and of cultivating a heart that is open to seeing value in the ordinary, and the miraculous in the mundane.

This afternoon at work I found three pennies on the floor. Oh what joy that the world is indeed "planted in pennies!" I thought then of the significance of the three copper coins. For while we say that a penny can't buy anything anymore, pennies are still the currency for our deepest thoughts and strongest opinions. And so I offer you Thr3e Pennies: my two cents worth, and a penny for your thoughts. My goal is to share the little bits of wonder that are strewn throughout everyday life, and  I hope that you will do the same through the comments below.

A penny for your thoughts?