Growing up, I read a lot. I was also read TO a lot. There were the stories of Uncle Wiggly and Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy that mom used to read to me if I was sick or got hurt (which of course, as an active kid I tended to have my share of injuries), or the Richard Scary books that my brother and I shared and read a lot together. I loved the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books, Where the Wild Things Are had a special place in my heart as well as Clifford, The Big Red Dog. But perhaps on of my favorite stories was by Margery Williams… The Velveteen Rabbit.
My dad was an Episcopal Priest (now a semi-retired Bishop) and every sunday found me in the front row on my mom’s lap as a small child in church peering up at him as he told stories. At that point, I believed he was just a professional storyteller… and to which I definitey wasn’t wrong.They were real life stories that related to the message he needed to convey that week. Sometimes they were Charlie Brown and Lucy adventures, wondering when she would stop pulling the football out from his foot as he was about to kick. Sometimes he told of angels and sky maidens and hide & seek and Fiddler on the Roof… And the frog who was kissed and made into a prince. Yes, Dad, I did listen all those sundays. And as an adult can understand really now what you were saying all those years ago.
But one always stood out to me. And everytime you used it, I felt deeply what you were saying. Whether I was 5 or 35, I listened to this story like it was my own.
A young boy was given a stuffed toy rabbit as a Christmas gift and as it sat in the nursery waiting to be chosen as a playmate, the rabbit wondered what it would take for him to be loved. As he made friends with the other toys in the room, the skin horse explained to him what the goal of all toys is… To be made “real”… and to be loved by a human.
It seemed the rabbit was only worried about the outcome. But the Skin Horse explained to him perhaps in one of the best quotes from the book that “Real isn’t how you are made, it’s a thing that happens to you.”
The rabbit asked the skin horse if it hurts… to which the horse replied, yes… sometimes it hurts. But when you are real, you don’t mind being hurt.
And that it doesn’t happen all at once… It takes time. By the time you are real, you are worn and tattered a bit. But it doesn’t matter, because at that point you are really loved. And you can’t be ugly… except to people who don’t understand.
Doubting what is real is not allowing yourself to open your eyes and your heart to the process. Sometimes we are afraid of what “real” is. Sometimes, we don’t really understand why someone else would want to see the “real” in us, both good and bad, beautiful and “ugly”… and usually it’s because we don’t realize that once we are loved, they see things in us that we may not even know fully exist. They accept us for who we are, and even love the worn down parts and the rough patches, droopy ears and sewn on eyes.
I think it was no coincidence that both of my stuffed animals that I loved the most as a kid have worn out patches and holes. And come to think of it… they are both missing an eye. I think I loved them well.
And I realize now that once that love is there, the doubt disappears.
Never Doubt What is Real… sometimes you just need to look in the mirror and love who you are anyway. Despite and even through the rough patches.
It’s this process of becoming real that I think we all strive for… not so much the outcome.
Droopy ears and all…