Tonight I read my children The Velveteen Rabbit. And I just had to stop and share with you the meaning behind it all.
“‘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 often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you’re Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the 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’ll be 41 next month. It strikes me that this is a perfect description of growing older. It’s the love our children have for us and which we have for our spouses and best friends and relatives. We don’t see the surface; we see through to who they are inside.
I’m heading to Sedona tomorrow with my eldest son, to celebrate his emergence into double-digits (happy 10th birthday!) by hiking, kayaking and just being, the two of us, under the desert sun.
I don’t recall this book from my own childhood. But then childhood is the magic of not seeing the ends of things, but rather the experience of each and every moment, like a butterfly clipping by or a frog in a puddle or a puddle by itself, with or without rain boots.
It’s when we are worn with years and the insults that have been flung at us and we have been cautioned to shut up and sit down and wait our turn and no you can’t have that and don’t be silly, get a real job, something that will help you survive. That’s when we start to see this definition of REAL.
But it isn’t until you hit midlife, I believe, that it really sinks in. And you become brazen enough to just BE WHO YOU ARE.
That’s the best time. That’s when it means something.
“That was a really good story,” I said as I closed the book.
“Yeah.” All the children sighed. The lights on either side of the bed were yellow in the night. Outside, rain pattered against the windows. The air-conditioning blew constant. Today was 90 degrees.
For a minute, we just sat, basking in the glow of a universal truth of a well-told story. And then we continued with life-as-usual, before tucking in each child, kissing their soft cheeks, and turning out the light.