One of my favorite children’s books of all times is the Velveteen Rabbit.
But like most good children’s stories, it’s really not a children’s story. It’s a tale that has important things to say to adults trying to figure out the great question of: “How now shall we live?
The following scenario (that is one of my favorite) is a conversation between the Skin Horse, the most senior member of the children’s nursery and Velveteen Rabbit about what is real:
“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 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.”
― Margery Williams
Many of us think we are real. We think we are living an authentic life.
But, we aren’t actually real because our love has cost us nothing. Or it has cost us very little.
We aren’t loving till we hurt. And by this I don’t mean self-destructive pain. No, I’m talking about heart wide open living.
Think about it: when is the last time you cried tears over the suffering endured by a friend?
When is the last time you prayed for someone longer than a couple of seconds?
When is the last time you picked up the phone to just tell someone “I love you” them and were thinking about them?
Being real is about laying aside selfishness. Being real is about loving extravagantly. Being real is about not being afraid to love, even if you aren’t loved equally in return.
But the pain. Oh, the pain. I wish being real did not come with so much pain! But it is does.
When we love deeply, we are also hurt deeply. There is really no way around it. It can feel like–
Friends who we thought would be in our life forever no longer talk to us.
Family members that we thought would always remember our birthdays no longer send us cards.
Colleagues who we thought we would work together with gleefully for years turn on us.
But this is what being real is all about– having your hair loved off, your eyes popped out and your protective coverings looking sort of shabby. However, in the end, according to the Skin Horse it doesn’t matter. We learn as we love that being real is one of life’s greatest gifts.And those who can recognize the treasure we are and are becoming will find us. Our hearts will heal eventually. And the storehouse of experiences we’ve gathered through life’s most authentic journeys will make us better people, more loving people.
But I still hate it when my heart breaks. I really do. But, I hope that I am becoming a little more real everyday.