Listening time: under 4 minutes. This is Saint-Exupéry’s definition of peace, in which everything is in its place and friends can be reached, particularly striking when contrasted with his musings on the nature of war.
It comes from a slim but powerful book recounting a single reconnaisance sortie in 1940 over German controlled territory. Written as a stream-of-consciousness, the author moves in and out of day-dreaming, philosophizing, and urgently acting to prevent his plane being shot down or crashing due to tech-fail.
In his spare style, the book underscores the utter desperation of France at the start of the war and the high human and cultural cost of its more or less futile attempts to stop an invader twice its size and superbly equipped and trained. As he sums it up, France was throwing 40 million farmers into the fray, against 80 million industrial workers on the German side.
From his plane he can see a ‘black syrup’ river of internal refugees leaving thousands of ancient villages to move to parts of France which were hardly any safer and didn’t have the food or shelter to provide for them anyhow.
This summary of peace reinforces my belief that it is far more than a simple absence of war, but should be cherished and burnished consciously, the way we should cherish and nurture good health rather than taking it for granted as the default state from which we are occasionally wrenched by illness or injury.
Looking down on those swarming highways I understand more clearly than ever what peace meant. In time of peace the world is self-contained. The villagers come home at dusk from their fields. The grain is stored up in the barns. The folded linen is piled up in the cupboards. In time of peace each thing is in its place, easily found. Each friend is where he belongs, easily reached. All men know where they will sleep when night comes.
Ah, but peace dies when the framework is ripped apart. When there is no longer a place that is yours in the world. When you know no longer where your friend is to be found.
May you ever live in peace!
Source: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Flight to Arras, trans. by Lewis Galantière (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), p. 76
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