Finding meaning in what's "real"

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary.  During the day my 15 year old daughter took the opportunity to ask me, "How does it feel to be married for 17 years?"

It's nice to think I once was this young because I don't look like this anymore!

How does it feel?

I could not give her a brief answer that would explain the ups and downs of devoted love.  But I did remember a story that describes the value and pain of redeeming love.

So, tonight as a family, we sat around the Christmas tree and re-read an old favorite, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.

Almost 100 years ago in 1922, Margery Williams wrote The Velveteen Rabbit, a children's classic that begins with the arrival of a stuffed animal bunny in a little boy's Christmas stocking.

If you want a refresher on this tender novelette, you can find it here on Brainpickings, along with lovely illustrations by Japanese artist Komako Sakai.  

The Velveteen Rabbit illustration by Komako Sakai, book available on amazon

How does it feel to be real?

In the most memorable passage of the book, the Rabbit asks the wise Skin Horse what it means to be real.  The anxious Rabbit has already come to realize that he is not as technologically sophisticated or as flashy as the wind-up, mechanical toys.  He confuses being "real" with having all the appearances of motion, innovation, and superiority.

The Skin Horse tells the Rabbit that being real does not have anything to do with how he is (or is not) made.  Rather, becoming real is a thing that happens, gradually over time, when a child truly loves you.

The Rabbit then asks, "Does it hurt?"  To which the Skin Horse replies that "when you are real, you don't mind being hurt."  

The Skin Horse does not go into details, but he hints here that the Rabbit will experience transformation only if he opens himself fully to being vulnerable.

My copy of the book, given to me at age 7 
by my Aunt Barbara.

The Skin Horse goes on to say that being real does not happen all at once.  Rather, it takes a long time.  And you will sacrifice yourself willingly for the greater good of the relationship.

Then the Skin Horse delivers my favorite lines in the whole book:

"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and... you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things do not matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." 

In other words, an abiding and honest love can conquer time and age and death.

How do we find meaning in a world that does not value being "real"?

We read this story tonight because Margery Williams' timeless message is as important now as it was when she penned it.

I would like to think that my children will hear these words and strive for meaning over happiness -- that they will want to be real, even in an unreal world.

I would like to think that my children will understand that impossibly happy and unrealistic posts on social media are not "real" life.

I would like to think that my children will see through flashy, varnished, and vapid advertisements.  And that they will have the discernment to choose meaning over what is easy or what feels good in that instant.

I hope they will understand that although we all will become old and shabby and grey, "it doesn't matter at all" because of the transforming power of redeeming love.

And during the holidays this year, I hope you can ponder what is real and meaningful -- because when we explore these questions, we find the anchors of our lives.

photo by Susan VonCannon


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