“How on earth, Christiana, does this book belong on a blog about Christian spirituality? It’s only an old nursery tale about a rabbit. There’s no mention of God anywhere.”
True. I think we both know that God doesn’t so much wait around to be mentioned, though. Here’s the thing about The Velveteen Rabbit; I don’t actually understand this book.
I mean, I get the story line well enough—before Toy Story (but after Pooh and Pinocchio), there was the Velveteen Rabbit being a toy with its own worries and fears and desires to be loved and useful and fun. But there’s this central concept in this story about being Real, and I struggle so hard with what that actually means.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a book loaned me by Interpreter, who has had me read it twice and I’ve read it a third time trying to understand what on earth is so important about it. My first response is yay, that’s adorable, what a delightful snippet of childhood. I remember having that one toy as a child that was not a toy but my best friend. It knew my secrets, it shared my adventures, it understood the days that I needed to not talk at all but simply be there together. Giving that toy a voice, a heart, a love for its owner and a desire to be Real—what a fantastic concept!
But I still didn’t really get what “Real” actually meant, which kind of drove me nuts because this book seems to mean a lot to people and I didn’t know why. So I read it, and re-read it, and mulled it over, and thought about it when that one important page popped up on Facebook pages:
And I still didn’t get it.
Anyone who’s ever taught anything knows that you understand something so much better when you have to explain it to someone else. I was out to lunch with Discretion the other day and somehow she and I got onto appearance. I’m not beautiful by American societal standards, and in some ways neither is she. This is a hard thing because we are taught to want to be beautiful—but that’s another conversation. In this conversation, I was talking about how it’s okay that I’m not beautiful because my friends like her don’t actually look at me, not my physical self; they see the me who is their friend, the conglomerate of all the memories that we have together.
And I actually stopped mid-sentence because that is what it is to be Real.
I have the feeling there’s more to it than the physical appearance thing—I don’t pretend to have totally figured this book out. But I am Real to God: no matter whether my ears have lost their pinkness or my nose has fallen off or my fur has been rubbed to dullness, I am Real to God. No matter whether I don’t have real hind legs and can’t actually hop, I am Real to God. No matter whether I have totally fucked up the life I was given and the body I was given and am not at all like the human I was supposed to be, I am Real to God because God sees past all of that. God loves me enough that I am Real.
Because I am Real to God, and because God teaches us to see other creations as Real, I am also Real to some other people. I am Real to Discretion, and probably to Watchful, Hopeful, Magister, and Interpreter. They don’t see the unkempt body or the mismatched sins; they see me, their friend whom they love. And they are Real to me because I see them as the people I love with whom I have shared many adventures and long conversations and moments of holding tightly when I was afraid.
This is tough stuff. The Skin Horse (who has been Real for a very long time and is quite wise) says, “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.” Either I am not Real all the time or the Skin Horse got that one wrong, because I very much mind being hurt. This is perhaps why I get super stuck at the Rabbit’s conclusion when he’s been thrown away with all the other scarlet-fever-infested toys:
Of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? (33)
I’m still there, to be honest, because I am still velveteen and I want very much to stay in what I know. My family loves me and I have to leave them, and that sucks, Reader. That sucks a lot and I am in a lot of conversation with God about what that’s going to look like because what use was all that relationship-building if it’s to end like this?
The hope, perhaps, that it does not end like this. The Rabbit meets a fairy and the story goes on; some day, some far off day, I will meet a Savior and the story will go on. In the meantime will change, and there will be many other meetings in between now and then, and I may be altered by the next pieces of my life such that one of my current friends may see me and not quite recognize me but think, “That woman looks just like a friend I used to have…”
But I will never stop being Real because one you become Real, you can’t become unreal again. God made me Real long before I had any idea what that meant because God really loved me—loves me still. So to God, and to some of my friends, I cannot be ugly—in spirit or physicality—because they understand.
At least, I think that’s what it means. The things we write for children are often hardest for us adults to grasp.