“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day.”
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 recently celebrated a birthday and received from a beloved client a beautifully bound edition of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” the classic of children’s literature. Somehow, though surrounded by books throughout my childhood, I missed out on this particular story.
It is clearly much more than a sweet story for children. When I shared the passage above with some friends of similar age (60-something) at my birthday gathering, we all got tears in our eyes and then laughter broke out as we acknowledged how our “hair has been loved off,” our eyesight has diminished, our joints are too loose or too tight, and we even feel pretty shabby some days.
What comforting words from this Skin Horse! How we need to be reminded sometimes that it’s not the stuff the world sees on the outside that defines our value or beauty. As the Apostle Peter instructed the godly women who were followers of Jesus,
“Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful” (1 Peter 3:3-5).
According to the Skin Horse, and according to the Scripture, those whose lives are consumed with love and grace toward others–even though it costs a lot and wears us down with time–carry a beauty that can’t be denied.
This makes growing older an adventure to embrace rather than a tragedy to endure.
Maybe this Horse had read the Bible. His description of those who become REAL is a good match for the Bible’s illustrations of those who become holy and whole. They give and receive love easily, and don’t make unreasonable demands of others. They will suffer harm to themselves rather than strike back and demand their rights.
These are sturdy people who don’t “break easily.” There is strength and resiliency. These people aren’t hard and brittle; they remain soft and pliable.
If you read to the end of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” you find that after comforting his small person during an attack of Scarlet Fever, the rabbit is thrown away because he has become germ-infested. But there is a resurrection! He is raised to life! And because he had become REAL through his love, he is transported to a meadow where he can frolic with other real, living, hopping rabbits who are healthy and free.
What a picture of our promised resurrection day! This life is a testing and training ground for love. Those we love are instruments of God to help us become REAL. The real deal. Maybe worn out at the end, but never ugly, “except to those who don’t understand.” The final reward is eternal realness and eternal life.
*Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1922.