‘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 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.”
Being real. What does that mean as a person?
Most of us have incredibly fond memories of Margery Williams’ tender story The Velveteen Rabbit. It captured our childhood imagination and still tugs at our adult heart strings. The power of love is transformative. I have read comments from others, including David Foster Wallace, who found this to be a very sad story, but I disagree. I think it is a story full of great lessons, inspiring things to ponder, and not to mention, magical.
The Skin Horse knew the secret, the magic to becoming real. Time is one part of it. Real happens when your fluff and finery, your costume and mask have been removed, worn away…like the Skin Horse. Your hair has been loved off, your “eye drops out” and you get all loose and shabby. The glitz and novelty is gone and what is left is what is real. Those who become real don’t break easily, or have sharp edges or require a lot of upkeep.
When this “real” becomes, all those things no longer matter because once you are real, you cannot be ugly.
Of course there is a difference in the story of a well loved stuffed animal and a spattering of nursery magic and the process of a human being “becoming real”.
Becoming real in a world and life that is full of challenges, heartache, effort, work, disillusionment, as well as love, joy, fulfillment and tenderness, is a painstakingly slow process. In this country we are bombarded with ideas of beauty, power, desire, want, need, entitlement, dreaming. Being real may have gotten lost in the endless rattling off of a list of things that will make us beautiful, happy, worth something, important, successful, memorable, loved.
Perhaps this is the lesson elders in past societies and in some current cultures understood. Perhaps this is where the idea of respect of elders and the unselfish care of elders originated. As human beings they had become “real” people. They had attained wisdom.
How do we become real? Well, the Velveteen Rabbit became real by giving unconditional love. By being patient and tolerant. By being forgotten and left behind. By facing fears and feeling threatened. By enduring ridicule and judgment. By caring for the little boy more than he cared for himself. He became real because he loved, completely, the little boy. He became real because of the complete love of a little boy.
“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.” The Velveteen Rabbit became real because he loved and was loved.
“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.”
As a person it may not be healthy for us to be forgotten, left behind, offer unconditional love in an unhealthy relationship. No one should feel threatened or be subjected to ridicule and judgement. And, as a person, we have to have respect for and take care of ourselves on many levels. Overcoming deep hurt is difficult.
Perhaps we can begin the transformation towards becoming real when we let go of the ideas of “good enough”, “beautiful”, “new”, “current”, all the “stuff” that got loved off the Skin Horse and the Velveteen Rabbit. All that was left was what was real. There was no ugly.
Becoming real can hurt because it means you become vulnerable. But while you may be vulnerable to opinion, judgment, comparison, ridicule, expectation, rejection, the strength of being real allows you to have those things come at you, and then they disappear. Being hurt doesn’t matter because it is fleeting. Being real HAPPENS to you when your life fills with patience, empathy, compassion, courage, presence, and acceptance.
As the Skin Horse reminds us, when you become real you cannot be “ugly”, except to those who do not understand. You may get “hurt”, but you don’t mind.
Being “real” happens after a long time. When it happened for the Velveteen Rabbit, he kicked up his legs, wiggled his tale and became free. Love was a catalyst. “Real” became.