Friday, November 25, 2011

Real



Illustration by Rob Woodrum,
Margery William's The Velveteen Rabbit
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
- from The Velveteen Rabbit  by Margery Williams, 1922




This was one of my favorite books during my childhood. I did not return to this book until this past summer when I read it to my sister as a bedtime story and was moved to tears by the tragic beauty of it. I had forgotten what a bittersweet tale Margery Williams' book was. It is certainly on of those children stories that C.S. Lewis would have designated as a "good" children's story, as it is appropriate for adults as well as children in its beautiful message. The book follows the relationship of a toy rabbit and his loving child owner from its beginning to its conclusion. The rabbit becomes the child's favorite plaything only to eventually be cast aside. 
The velveteen rabbit shows where true beauty really lies -- not in appearance, for the longer he is loved by the boy the more tattered and worn he appears. On the contrary, Real lies in loving until it hurts, and being loved by another. The same can be said of people -- the people who dare to live and to love, even if it hurts. These people love come what may -- partings, illness, death, hurt. REAL people, as described by the Skin Horse, are those who have been tattered and torn yet still dare to live and to dream. They have been hurt deeply and they have loved deeply, their hands are gnarly and wrinkled from caressing the heads of children and wiping away tears and sweat. Their joints are achy from lifting a helping hand to assist both neighbor and stranger, from dancing with their spouse, parent, child, from rocking children and grandchildren to sleep. Their mouths are lined from years of smiles, laughter, singing, speaking words of blessing and encouragement. Real people are those who have the courage to get up to face the mundane tasks of life and to sacrifice for their loved ones, to speak the truth and to live it. After all, the fate of the rabbit himself may actually be similar to the one we will experience at the end of our life. Perhaps it may be said that after our death in eternity we shall "become Real." Perhaps that is where life truly begins. If this is true, I hope that one day that I shall, like the velveteen rabbit, become Real.