Last night, my son pulled out a new book for us to read before his bedtime: The Velveteen Rabbit. We’ve actually had this book for a couple of years, but never read it together before. It was a gift to my son from a family friend after my Mom died in honor of my Mom’s love of books and reading. My Mom worked as a children’s librarian at points in her work life, and this friend very thoughtfully gave us a number of children’s books that my mom loved and probably would have enjoyed reading to our kids.
I remembered the basic story line from my own childhood: beloved toy rabbit longs to become "real". But as I was reading along, these lines hit me over the head like a cosmic 2 X 4.
It’s a conversation between the Velveteen Rabbit, and another
nursery toy, the Skin Horse, who has lived longer in the nursery than
any of the other toys:
"What is REAL?" asked the
Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side… "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 are 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’m not sure if my son saw the tears glinting in my eyes or not.
To become "real": it’s rough and tumble, and can leave you messy
and dishelveled. It takes a long time. It’s not for the fragile or
the faint of heart. But it’s also quite beautiful, because it’s about
love. It’s the process we’re each undertaking to find our true
callings, our voice, our place on earth where we can shine and make a
What does it mean to you to "become real"?
How does this impact how you’re working to make a difference?
John Richardson says
One of the greatest ways I’ve experienced “getting real” was reading a Dr. Seuss book to a class of third graders. Their eyes opened wide as the heard about Horton hearing little tiny voices. “Horton Hears a Who” was a hit and a “real” experience for me. Lesson learned… We need to listen to even the smallest voices…
Hanna Cooper says
Lovely story – thanks for sharing it here. There is nothing like a child for helping us remember what real and present in the now.
I got that passage off a post on Ask Metafilter, and sent it to my best friend for her birthday last year; according to her, I made her heart break (in a good way, I’m hoping!).
The hardest part about being real is the part where it involves pain. But eventually it heals, and it helps us grow.
I went through a series of experiences last year that really changed my perception of what is real. Traveling around the world, doing all sorts of community work, interacting with people, performing with them, sharing our lives…it was a serious test in many ways, and it was also a way for all of us to “get real”.
I found that book in the home of one of my host families during that trip. Man, what a reminder.
Phil Gerbyshak says
Becoming real means becoming vulnerable and allowing others to see the “real” you. It’s not always easy, often hurts, but it is usually worth it. Share the real you, and you’ll enjoy real love and friendship.
Believe it or not, this is the first I’ve heard the Velveteen Rabbit story, but now I know one of the first books I’ll be reading my children when I have them.
Thank you Hanna!