The essential is invisible to the eyes.

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

This is a quote from Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, a classic novel taught in many high school French classes.  For those who don’t speak French, allow me to translate:  “Here is my secret. It is very simple: one sees well only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes.”

I took French in high school and I remember reading this book.  But I didn’t fully understand those words until I met Nanette.  She was a French teacher and one of the first people I met when I started working at my current job.  She was passionate about teaching Le Petit Prince and her enthusiasm for the story and the messages it contains was apparent to all who knew her.   Her desk was covered with images from the book – stuffed figures, postcards, picture frames.  She even commissioned some art students to paint a mural on her classroom wall depicting scenes from the story.

Every other year or so, she and a Spanish teacher from school would lead a group of students on a trip to Europe.  The two of them had been teaching together for many years, had taken numerous trips together, and were close friends.  They would recount a story from one trip that demonstrated Nanette’s love of all things Little Prince.  She had seen a watch in a small store on her previous trip to Paris and wanted to return to the store to buy it.   The face of the watch was decorated with a picture of the Little Prince, and she had to have it!

Their flight was late getting in to France, so there wasn’t much time before they had to meet up with their tour.  The two teachers dropped the kids at the hotel and raced off for the Metro.  They arrived at the store just in time but Nanette hadn’t had a chance to change her money into Francs (this was before the Euro).  So her Spanish-speaking friend paid for the watch with the understanding that Nanette would pay her back.

The Spanish teacher wanted to show off her French skills to the shop owner, so when he asked if they were related, she replied, “Non.  Il est mon amon.”  What she was trying to say was “no, she is my friend.”  What she actually said was “no, he is my lover.”  You can imagine the shop owner’s surprise!  Nanette was quick to correct the mistake, but when she wore that watch, it would bring a smile to her face, remembering the adventure she had in getting it!

Today would have been her 53rd birthday.  Except it wasn’t.  She lost her battle to cancer about 17 months ago.  Today, I went to visit her grave for the first time since her funeral.  Engraved on her headstone is a picture of the Little Prince.  How fitting!


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