I didn't write a single article for my blog for nearly 6 months this year. As it turned out, I spent 3 months traveling around Europe in a fun but in many ways ill-fated voyage. And after that, I was busy writing a book about that very trip.
I have few illusions about my writing ability- I am a decent writer, probably better than most, but certainly no Shakespeare or even a Stephen King. And the idea of writing a book always seemed so... presumptuous. As in, if you're going to write a book, it had better be a damn good book, about something important.
During the trip in Europe a friend mentioned offhandedly that I should write a book about it because it was such a great story. That was thanks mainly to a sequence of crazy, absurd events that transpired. But her comment must have planted a seed in my mind- I don't remember thinking about turning the trip into a book before that. But by the end of the adventure I was determined to write the book. I didn't really ever make a conscious decision to do so, I more just had a raw, overpowering feeling that I had to write it. For myself more so than for anyone else.
That begs the question, why try and publish it if it is just for myself? And, why did I feel so compelled to write it in the first place?
There are a few interrelated answers. First, if I'd never intended to share it with the wider world, there would have been no reason or desire to edit it, shape it, and improve it. Writing requires clarity of thought, but as I've found with the book I wrote, that clarity of thought sometimes only comes through after the fifth revision, after struggling and cajoling and fighting with a passage or paragraph for hours, knowing that others will be reading it and it can't be sloppy like a private journal entry might. Indeed, the book's been revised and edited a half-dozen times, and at this point I am just waiting on friends and family to read through it and give me feedback on what can be improved, what is good as-is, and most nerve-wrackingly of all, if it is a good book, interesting and nice to read.
Second, being presumptuous or not, I think it is an amusing story that others might enjoy, even if no one other than my friends and family decide to read it (though considering how hard it is to find someone willing to read through the drafts to give me feedback, I wonder even about that!). And I tried to make it the kind of book I'd like to read. What I mean by that is, if I wrote it well enough, it's more than just a travel memoir, but also a bit of an essay on travel, identity, and inspiration.
Third, and importantly for me, is that this is the first big self-initiated and self-directed creative project I've ever set out on and seen through to its end. The realization shocked me when I had it earlier this week, but it is true. Every other major creative endeavor I've undertaken has been at the behest or initiative of others: parents, teachers, professors, employers.
I take pride in having spent a great many years, and much effort, turning myself into as much of a self-starter as possible. Whether by nature or nurture, I was not born that way. So the very act of writing a complete, 300 page-long book, editing it, revising it, and (hopefully) self-publishing it, is a huge milestone for me. I needed to write the book. I decided to write the book, and I did so. It took a month's worth of long days filled with frenzied writing, and many more months of protracted and painful editing, and there are probably more months of editing ahead. But I don't, and didn't, have anyone looking over my shoulder, dangling a carrot or shaking a stick, to make sure I wrote the book. And the more time I spent hammering away at the rapidly blooming pages, the more it seemed like what I was really hammering away on was myself.
In some weird way, writing and finishing my book felt like a rite of initiation into something that I'm not quite sure what to call. For lack of anything better, let's say that I feel initiated as a self-starter and self-driver. It is a pleasant feeling.
Fourth, and finally, writing this book has helped me not only feel comfortable with writing, and with my writing, but also realize that writing is one of the few things I truly and deeply enjoy. While I always knew I wanted to write, a deep-seated writer's block prevented me from ever taking that idea seriously or even getting around to writing something beyond personal journal entries, let alone something others might read one day. Writing this book has opened the floodgates, as it were: I have several more ideas for what I think would make interesting books, and have already started on a second project. In fact, the research I was doing for the second book was precisely what sparked the idea for this piece, the realization that the first book was my first self-directed and self-initiated creative project.
So that is why I am writing a book. It has been a humbling, exciting, anxiety-inducing experience, and one I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.
Dillon Dakota Carroll
I want to share a small tip I've been having some success with to help establish a daily routine- something I know is important, but have never been able to do until recently!
I would always set out with the best of intentions, plotting out to a tee how my morning and night would go and exactly what I would be doing. The sequence would spiral out of control like a cancer until I had my first three or four hours of the day plotted. Sometimes I'd even go so far as to plan out the entire day. And these wonderfully intentioned plans and planned routines never worked.
The problem I'd always have was that I'd mess up once and misspend the day. Guilt-wracked, by the end of the evening I'd have realized how unproductive I'd been and "binge-work", staying up till the wee hours of the morning to try and get as much of my backlogged work done as possible. But I never worked well after 2am anyway, and the next morning I'd sleep in and wreck my fledgling attempts at creating my own routine.
Thinking about what is different with my efforts now, I can see that I've had, or am having, a mindset shift away from this self-destructive work-bulemia. And one thing that helped get me there (or maybe a consequence of getting there, who knows?) was to start thinking of my day as a series of "checkpoints", like the save-points in a video-game.
Basically, I've chosen only three hard and fast times for my routine during the day. The idea is simple, and not new at all, but I think it is effective for reasons I explain below.
My three checkpoints are:
Here's why this works for me.
This reduces or completely eliminates the anxiety of having an entire day planned out to the tee. Three simple times to keep track of instead is totally manageable. Once those times arrive, I know I need to drop everything and move on. I suppose I could ignore the deadline, but only having three hard-and-fast times throughout the day makes that seem like a cop-out and like I'm cheating myself. It totally destresses the process for me.
It forces me to focus on what's truly essential for me to feel like I had a good day. I want to write, and really make a serious thing of my writing, but could never make a habit of it. The same with working out. Yet the difference between the days when I do those two things- write and exercise- and when I don't is frighteningly stark. In short, if I got to those two things during the day, it wasn't necessarily a good day but it certainly wasn't a bad day.
Finally, a big reason for my binge-working and my inability to create new habits or routines was really just because I couldn't ever go to bed on time. Voilà my third checkpoint.
I still have a checklist of routine things I want to get done each day that is more than three items- it's at 15 items, actually- but I try not to sweat it if I miss some of them in a day and instead focus on meeting the checkpoints. Because I know that even if I've totally wasted the day up to that point, if I can make a checkpoint, I'm more likely than not going to continue on track and start ticking off the rest of the items on my list.
Like a video-game checkpoint, these allow me to start anew and try again at having a good, productive day. In essence, I have three opportunities each day to turn a bad day into a good one, or at least a productive one. It's like building mini-periods of reflection into the day, mini-sprints of work/recovery that give me the psychological opportunity to renew myself a little bit with each checkpoint.
And even if I don't feel like doing the checkpoint, the bar is set so low that I know the easiest thing to do is just force myself to do it rather than deal with all the nasty regret and guilt. After all, I only have the three real commitments during the day, and they're pretty easy. Sit in front of my computer with Evernote open until 11. Put on workout clothes and walk outside at noon. Go brush my teeth at ten pm. Since motivation usually only comes after taking action, meeting those three checkpoints is like knocking over the first in a line of dominos. I'm back on track for the day and feeling great. Or at least better.
Zan Perrion provides some inspiration here in his book The Alabaster Girl. In it, he recommends a small ritual he calls Vespers, as in vespertine (occurring in the evening). The idea is that at some point before going to bed, we find a few quiet moments to ourselves to reflect and prepare for the next day.
One could imagine that daily Vespers is like a checkpoint in a video game. We are playing the game of Life on the ‘Hard’ difficulty setting, but because we saved the game at that point yesterday evening, because we reconnected with what is truly important, we can always fall back on that point again any time in the future.
Hope you found this tip to be useful!
Dillon Dakota Carroll
"The point of man is not to be humble, it is to be humbled."
I'm certain I read this in an email from the founder of the GoRuck Challenge, Jason McCarthy, but I've never been able to find a trace of the words either in my email archives or on line. But they are words that have stuck with me ever since I read them.
It's funny how the addition of one little letter can change the meaning of a phrase so completely.
To be humble: one of the cardinal virtues ingrained in our society. Be grateful. Don't brag. Know your limits and your place in the world. Certainly, these are well intentioned rules of thumb for living one's life.
But I'm certain that the concept of humility, while perhaps good at heart, is so thoroughly misunderstood and misused as to become useless at best and self-defeating at worst.
Humility is passive, and encourages passivity in us. Too scared or weak to take action towards your goals and do what needs to be done? That's fine, hide it under draperies of humility.
Humility is the perfect excuse to not only not talk about yourself and your actions. It is the perfect excuse to never take action in the first place. Indeed, there is no call to action at all, and as a result no hard-won insights about oneself.
Or as the Art of Manliness put it: "The cloak of virtue hangs very awkwardly on a man without fire and fight; it droops and sags when draped across a structure that lacks strength and firmness."
In particular, humility needs the strength of other virtues to stand straight and mean anything. Humility has to be paired with courage and initiative and a sense of risk and the possibility of failure before it takes on an attractive form.
Add one letter to that same phrase, and see how the meaning changes. To be humbled. And what an empowering difference!
To be humbled. It's active, not passive. We had to do something to be humbled. We're putting ourselves in situations beyond us. Beyond our comfort zone. Where we might fail. But if we're reaching for something meaningful to us, then it's certainly worth the possibility of failure, the chance of being humbled, of losing. The struggle in and of itself is worthwhile. Perhaps it is making us into the person who can achieve that goal, and success is just around the corner. Even if that's not the case, how can we ever truly know ourselves if not through our failures and hardships, the situations that thoroughly and completely "put us in our place"?
Only through hardship, through our humbling experiences, do we have the chance to develop the qualities we cherish the most, as I recently wrote in my essay on Terre des Hommes. Otherwise, what is man, but a soft sheep weakly bleating and waiting for the slaughter?
No one expounds this idea better than Viktor Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning:
What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.
Striving for a freely chosen task and taking real action is hard, and entails obstacles that test our nerve, resolve, and will. These hardships give us a chance to live up to our ideals about ourselves, whether that be of courage, compassion, camaraderie, leadership, or anything in between. And we become humbled in the process because only through our striving do we begin understanding and seeing our capacities and our limits. On the one hand, we probably discover that we're stronger than we thought. But not as strong as we'd like to be.
And with the hard-won insights born of action, we know we can push past these limits, but that doing so often requires immense effort, discipline, courage. Those who have gone before become pathfinders, lighting our way, worthy of respect for their trailblazing efforts. Those on the path with us become camarades, sharing the same hardships and obstacles, being humbled in similar ways. We become grateful, truly grateful, for these mentors and friends, and for that which we have been able to accomplish through our persistance and dedication.
Or, perhaps the hardship is thrust upon us, as it was on Frankl when he was sent to a Nazi concentration camp in WWII. Regardless, as Frankl wrote after his experience there,
The way in which a man accepts his fate, and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity- even under the most difficult circumstances- to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified, and unselfish.
Frankl isn't talking specifically about humility, but he doesn't have to. It is a natural consequence of attempting to remain strong and brave, in his case, before some of the most flagrant acts of cruelty in the cruel history of mankind. It is a humility born of experience, of seeing oneself tested over and over again. It is a noble humility that is too big for false modesty or meek acceptance.
James Stockdale explicitly stated what Frankl hinted at in the above. Writing this after spending nearly a decade in captivity in North Vietnam:
I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.
As with Frankl, one of the most difficult and humbling experiences a man can suffer becomes a quiet source of strength, a pillar of Stockenridge's identity. Again, if we don't expose ourselves to hardship and the process of humbling that it entails, we can never truly know ourselves, our capacities, and eventually grow to overcome our limits.
And as we saw with Saint Exupery, these most terrifying and humbling experiences often plant the seeds of our most lasting contributions to humanity. In Saint Exupery's case, he could not have written his beloved Little Prince without nearly dying of thirst when his plane crashed. Marooned in the desert, three days without water, and on the brink of death, he and his mechanic were rescued by a bedouin nomad. And yet out of that experience came one of the most famous and cherished books of all time, a book that has been printed 150 million times and translated into nearly every written language on earth.
Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a wonderfully vibrant, almost violent poem called The Man Watching that expresses these sentiments much more forcefully and expressively than I ever could. Note that the bolded emphasis is mine.
I can see that the storms are coming
translation by Edward Snow
There is a call to adventure here, to set out to seek those great storms that can truly shape us and change us and make us great. To walk "erect and justified", humbled and not humble, to our next freely-chosen task and hardship, recognizing that this is the only way we can continue learning, growing, and striving for excellence and virtue.
As Viktor Frankl wrote, "Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is. In a word, each man is questioned by life..."
Are you sitting around, humble, waiting for the answers? Or are you wrestling with the answers, humbled, "deeply defeated by ever greater things"?
Dillon Dakota Carroll
A quick note. I read this book a month, maybe almost two months, before sitting down to write this essay. I also read it in the original French, which made the book harder to understand in its totality. All this is to say that I may be remembering the book as I want to remember it, and I wonder what others got out of this book. But then, that's why I wanted to write it in the first place- to polish my memory of the book before losing it to time. I translated the quotes the best I could, as it would have taken too long to find the corresponding passages in an English version.
Terre des hommes, the memoir by Antoine de Saint Exupery (Literally "Land of Men", but renamed Sand, Wind, and Stars in its English translation) is a collection of recollections of his time spent as a airmail pilot, principally in the Sahara desert, though also in the Andes mountains. It was a dangerous job done in some of the harshest places on earth, and near-death experiences populate the book. And yet, Saint Exupery describes these moments, and the deserts they occur in, with a beauty and affection one can only find in a cherished memory. Because, despite its harshness and the solitude and desolation it causes, the desert opens the spirit of those who experience it and it brings out our best qualities: friendship, love, courage, and beauty.
The desert settings are a principal character in and of themselves, the foil to Saint Exupery, and his main conversation partner. There is little dialogue in the book, and instead sweeping descriptions of the desert. You can almost feel the heat and wind of the desert through the pages, and Exupery's prose leaves little doubt that this is a place hostile to human life. The characters in the book constantly fight loneliness and death. For example, a minor character in the book, a sergeant posted in a remote outpost, precipitously burst into tears upon seeing Saint Exupery and his team. He hadn't seen or spoken to anyone in six months.
This is important because the barren settings are the Prime Movers of the book, the agents of change. And like some incomprehensible deity, the seemingly negative events they cause bring out the best in the characters. In this way Terre des hommes is a book about the generative power of austere, ascetic environs. They cause loneliness, suffering, and death, but of this comes some of man's best qualities.
The desert for us? It was what was born within us. It was what we learned about ourselves.
("Le désert pour nous ? C’était ce qui naissait en nous. Ce que nous apprenions sur nous-mêmes.")
Take Guillem, a good friend of Saint Exupery's who crashed in the Andes mountains in the height of winter. Written off as dead by the authorities, cheating death and braving frostbite, he marched for six days through the snow covered mountains to make it home. Besides being an exemplar of courage and fortitude, the moment when he arrives, unexpected, at the airport is one of the most beautiful in the book, as all the pilots celebrate and he explains how he made it back.
Lacking food, you can very well imagine that by the third day of walking... my heart, it wasn't going very strongly... I told it: Let's go, one final effort! Try to beat again... but it was such a good heart! It would hesitate, but then always start again... if you knew how proud I was of my heart!
("« Privé de nourriture, tu t’imagines bien qu’au troisième jour de marche… mon cœur, ça n’allait plus très fort… Je lui disais : « Allons, un effort ! Tâche de battre « encore… » Mais c’était un cœur de bonne qualité ! Il hésitait, puis repartait toujours… Si tu savais combien j’étais fier de ce cœur!»")
Far beyond any hope of being rescued or even surviving, he had to find a reason to live, to push himself beyond all possible limits of human endurance and fortitude.
In the snow, you told me, all instincts of self-preservation are lost. After two, three, four days of walking, the only thing I wanted to do was lose myself in sleep. I wanted terribly to sleep. But I told myself: "My wife, if she believes that I am alive, believes that I am walking. My camarades believe that I am walking. They all believe in me. I'm a bastard if I stop walking.
(« Dans la neige, me disais-tu, on perd tout instinct de conservation. Après deux, trois, quatre jours de marche, on ne souhaite plus que le sommeil. Je le souhaitais. Mais je me disais : « Ma femme, si elle croit que je vis, crois que je marche. Les camarades croient que je marche. Ils ont tous confiance en moi. Et je suis un salaud si je ne marche pas. »")
Each crash such as this was undoubtedly a tragedy, especially when the pilots never returned as Guillem did. And yet, how can we read Guillem's story and not be filled with a sense of pride in the spirit and dedication of our fellow man? The snowy mountains were cruel, but what would we lose without these wastelands to shape our spirits and forge our characters anew?
As Kahlil Gibran wrote,
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And even the torturous suffering of a long, slow death by dehydration in the desert leads to a celebration of life and of man. At the very end of Terre des hommes is the story that would later serve as the basis for Le Petit Prince, Saint Exupery's most famous work. Saint Exupery and his mechanic find themselves stranded in the desert with no food or water and no idea of where they are. After three days of wandering in the sun and heat, delirious, having only drank a cup of wine each and eaten half an orange, they resign themselves to death. In doing so, Saint Exupery feels at peace and ready to leave the earth.
Once more, I sensed a truth that I've never quite understood. I believed myself to be lost, I believed I had touched the very depths of despair and, once I accepted the end, I felt only peace.
("Une fois de plus, j’ai côtoyé une vérité que je n’ai pas comprise. Je me suis cru perdu, j’ai cru toucher le fond du désespoir et, une fois le renoncement accepté, j’ai connu la paix.")
But it is not yet their time. As though by enchantment, a nomad herder appears over the next hill. They are sure he is a mirage until, realizing how near death they are, the shepherd leads them to water and salvation. This inspires in Saint Exupery a sweeping gratitude and love for humanity and for his fellow man. The anonymous shepherd becomes a proxy, a universal man through whom Saint Exupery can honor and thank mankind as a whole for his salvation, and the prose is gorgeous.
As for you who saved us, Bedouin of Libya, I will never forget you. I will never remember your face. You... appeared with the face of all men at once. You had never seen us and yet you recognized us instantly. You are the beloved brother. And, in turn, I recognize you within all men... You appeared, bathed in nobility and benevolence, a great lord who had the power to give us what we needed to drink. You brought all my friends and all my enemies closer to me, and now I now longer have any enemies in the world.
("Quant à toi qui nous sauves, Bédouin de Libye, tu t’effaceras cependant à jamais de ma mémoire. Je ne me souviendrai jamais de ton visage. Tu es l’Homme et tu m’apparais avec le visage de tous les hommes à la fois. Tu ne nous as jamais dévisagés et déjà tu nous as reconnus. Tu es le frère bien-aimé. Et, à mon tour, je te reconnaîtrai dans tous les hommes... Tu m'apparais baigné de noblesse et de bienveillance, grand seigneur qui as le pouvoir de donner a boire. Tout me amis, tous mes ennemis en toi marchent vers moi, et je n'ai plus un seul ennemi au monde.")
Through his savior, Saint Exupery can feel connected to mankind as a whole, his spirit widened by the desert. And we need to feel connected to somebody, like strings on a balloon, to keep from floating off into the sky. This is illustrated by Saint Exupery's tale of a slave he knew near Cape Juby, owned by a bedouin tribe. Taking pity on the slave, Saint Exupery and his friends purchase the slave's freedom and give him enough money to start his life over. The slave returns to his home city, but surrounded by a teeming mass of anonymity, ironically feels even more alone and lost than he did as a slave. He was so disconnected from his fellow man that he nearly succumbed to despair, almost wishing he were a slave once more where at least he had a place and someone knew he existed.
He possessed, being free, the essentials, the right to love and be loved, to walk north or south and earn his daily bread by his own work. What good was his money... He began to feel, as one feels a deep hunger, the need to be a man among men... but no one showed any sign that they had need of him. He was free, but infinitely, until he couldn't feel his own weight on the earth. He lacked the weight of human relationships... the tears, the goodbyes, the rebukes, the joys, all that a man caresses or destroys with each gesture, the thousand strings that tie him to others, and give him weight. But all that Bark [the former slave] felt was the weight of a thousand hopes...
("Il possédait, puisqu’il était libre, les biens essentiels, le droit de se faire aimer, de marcher vers le nord ou le sud et de gagner son pain par son travail. À quoi bon cet argent… Alors qu’il éprouvait, comme on éprouve une faim profonde, le besoin d’être un homme parmi les hommes... mais aucun n’avait montré non plus qu’il eût besoin de lui. Il était libre, mais infiniment, jusqu’à ne plus se sentir peser sur terre. Il lui manquait ce poids des relations humaines qui entrave la marche, ces larmes, ces adieux, ces reproches, ces joies, tout ce qu’un homme caresse ou déchire chaque fois qu’il ébauche un geste, ces mille liens qui l’attachent aux autres, et le rendent lourd. Mais sur Bark pesaient déjà mille espérances…")
Desperate for someone, anyone, to notice him, he gives away his money to the children on the street. The pilot who accompanied him back to civilization can't believe his eyes, as the former slave was throwing away money he could have used to start his life over. But the new freeman is ecstatic, as he now feels connected to someone. By giving away his money, he freely re-entered into human relationships as a man and not as a slave. He found the identity and meaning to life he'd lost along with his freedom, and he found them only by engaging with others. Because as we need a mirror to see our faces, we can only see our spirits through our relationships.
Going back to Saint Exupery's near-death experience in the desert, this theme of hardship and desolation leading to acts of beauty and humanity would play its tune later in his life. Consider that Exupery surely could not have written the beloved Petit Prince without this near death experience in the desert. It is comforting to think that the moments of our most profound suffering sometimes lead to our most lasting, beautiful contributions to the land of men. Indeed, Le Petit Prince is one of the most widely read and printed books in existence, with at least 140 million copies sold since its publication in 1937.
So these terrible events bring out the good in the characters. Which is good, because the world needs good people; while the book celebrates the individual, it also critiques human society.
In a world-turned-desert, we had the thirst of camaraderie: the taste of bread broken among comrades made us accept the values of war.
("Dans un monde devenu desert, nous avions soif de retrouver des camarades: le gout du pain rompu entre camarades nous a fait accepter les valeurs de guerre.")
So the Terre des hommes (land of men) is the desert of men. That's easy to understand, for two reasons. First, consider that the book was written on the eve of WWII while the world was still in the grip of the Great Depression. Second, it says something that to find this deeply-desired sense of camaraderie, the pilots had to leave behind nearly all vestiges of human society and retire to the desert like hermits.
The only thing I regret is your suffering. In the end, I've gotten the better of life. If I come back, I'll start over. I need to live. There is no longer life in our cities and towns.
("À part votre souffrance, je ne regrette rien. Tout compte fait, j’ai eu la meilleure part. Si je rentrais, je recommencerais. J’ai besoin de vivre. Dans les villes, il n’y a plus de vie humaine.")
I think this juxtaposition is necessary for the book. It is as though the actions of individuals, in the desert of the world, can redeem the sins of society. Their solitude in the inhospitable desert pushes them together and opens their spirit, and shows that even the desert is full of beauty and acts of humanity that ultimately redeem it.
All the examples I've discussed- Guillem marching through the snow, Saint Exupery nearly dying of thirst in the desert, the newly-freed man giving away all his money- have at least this in common: their trials and tribulations open their spirits to qualities like beauty, camaraderie, and humanity. This is an underlying theme throughout the whole book and one of the book's most lasting lessons, immortalized in passages like the following:
A cloth extended underneath an appletree only catches apples, while a cloth extended underneath the stars can catch stardust.
("Une nappe tendue sous un pommier ne peut recevoir que des pommes, une nappe tendue sous les etoiles ne peut recevoir que des poussieres d'astres...")
Apples are healthy and delicious, but man needs food for his spirit as well, which the stars of the desert's night sky provide for Saint Exupery in his memoir. But he can't catch the light and dust of the stars anywhere, once again bringing us to the counterintuitive idea of the barren desert as the necessary soil for some of man's best qualities, the same way the apple tree needs rich, wet topsoil. Only in the desert can a man's spirit become large enough to catch stardust.
It reminds me of a wonderful poem by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa called Da minha aldeia, or From my village. The translation is mine.
From my village I see all the earth that can be seen in the universe...
Like Saint Exupery, Pessoa is saying that only where we can truly drink in the horizon and the vastness of the earth can our spirits grow, enrich our lives, and catch the dust of the stars.
Speaking of stars, they play an important role in all of Saint Exupery's books. They are the redeeming force in the world, particularly to the pilots who must hazard long, dangerous flights in the unforgiving no-man's land of the desert. The stars are constantly referred to as the source of beauty in the book, of life-giving force, and they guide the pilots during their dangerous night flights.
The cold but life-giving beauty of the stars above are contrasted with the heat and life-taking desolation of the desert below. The pilots, Saint Exupery included, exist in the space between these two antimonies. They are above the desert, leaving behind it's desolation, atleast while flying, guided instead by the beauty and light of the now-nearer stars. And if Pessoa is right, then the pilot's spirits are truly immense while flying. Terre des hommes is Saint Exupery's effort to share the stardust he collected in all those flights through the desert sky.
A star was already gleaming and I contemplated it... And I felt my heart kick at having made a great discovery... I discovered, fifteen or twenty meters from me, a black pebble...
("Une étoile luisait déjà et je la contemplai... Et je reçus un coup au cœur, ainsi qu’au seuil d’une grande découverte... à quinze ou vingt mètres de moi, un caillou noir.")
Perhaps what can be said is that Saint Exupery's very profession is a metaphor for the central juxtaposition of opposites found in his story- that life is hard in the land and in the desert of men but those very trials bring out the best in us and draw us closer to those who's lives we can truly touch. It acts upon us, changes us, and opens our spirits and minds to the beauty of the world.
All we can do in the meantime is follow the advice of Rainer Maria Rilke:
To be in circumstances that work on us, that set us before great natural phenomena from time to time, is all we need... When you come down to it, [this is] the only kind of courage that is demanded of us: the courage for the oddest, the most unexpected, the most inexplicable things that we may encounter.
Dillon Dakota Carroll
...sees much and knows much