To Be Real

“What is REAL?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day . . . “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When [someone] 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… once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

–From The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams, courtesy of GoodReads.

I had a cassette stories I listened to faithfully every night before bed as a young child.  I kept my Fisher Price tape player–won because I drew flowers and a sun on my coloring page of a Sesame Street/Sears contest, but that’s another story–close to me like a teddy bear.

And I listened to those stories, over and over.

One of them was The Velveteen Rabbit.  It was a very sad story to me, almost too sad to listen to.  There were parts I didn’t understand . . but I guess I kinda thought I would one day.

One key part of the story I didn’t understand was that the Velveteen Rabbit had no back legs.  As a kid, I was always terribly afraid of getting tricked by something and–even though the story clearly says he has no back legs–I didn’t get it.  They were called “hind legs” and I had no idea what “hind legs” were or why he pretended to the real rabbits that he was sitting on them.  Only when I saw a picture of the Velveteen Rabbit with only front legs many years later did I realize he was missing limbs.  (I had seen a picture of the Velveteen Rabbit before, but he was in a Christmas stocking.)  I found this quite upsetting, even though I was about ten or eleven at the time.

Now, I see the marvel of the metaphor.  A stuffed rabbit who has no hind legs, can’t do anything rabbits really do, stuck up in a toy nursery on a shelf.  The ingenious element Margery added is that he is self-aware.  He knows he isn’t real.  But he desperately wants to be.  And, he might be just a little bit afraid of it, dreading it and desiring it at the same time.

I haven’t read The Velveteen Rabbit in years, at least since college.  But I still remember the hauntingly sad voice of the narrator that came on after I pressed “play” on the tape player.

I always liked that the Velveteen Rabbit became real in the end.

I always liked that part.

But . . it was scary, too.

I would have liked the story much better if he had simply been loved by the boy forever, and the boy had stayed a boy forever, and the rocking horse (I think that is what “skin horse” was) stayed a rocking horse, and they stayed in the safe, self-contained nursery.

Going out in the wild . . becoming real . . being on your own on a winter night like a real rabbit . . that seemed very frightening to me.  It wasn’t the idea of predators.  It was the idea of “open space”.

I have always had an aversion to open space.  I was often scared to look up at a kite in the sky as a child.  I was afraid to lay on my back on the grass and look up at the sky, or the night sky, lest I “fall up” as children’s poet Shel Silverstein says.

I don’t like “big open”.

I like small spaces.

When I am extremely upset, I like to retreat to a dark closet.  I like small rooms, rooms with doors, and I really like ceilings.

For these reasons alone, the idea of rapturing to Heaven is terrifying to me.  I would much rather die of old age.  I don’t want to be pulled up into the sky.  I am fearful of open space.

I read tonight that “agoraphobia” includes a fear of open spaces.  I thought of agoraphobia as being afraid of people, afraid to leave your house–neither of which I have.

It’s that openness, too much open-endedness, too much lack of closure, too much ambiguity about what is to happen next that I try to avoid, that frightens me.  I guess that I, without knowing it, have lived a life afraid of becoming real.  I would rather be the stuffed bunny than the real rabbit.

God has been exceedingly kind to me.  Although He could have demanded I became real before He would have anything to do with me, in essence He picked up my fragile stuffed bunny soul and held me until I felt safe in His love to explore . . just a bit . . what real would feel like.

I don’t rollick in open fields.  I would ten billion trillion times rather play with a marble roller coaster than ride a real one.  When I feel very overwhelmed I like to curl up in a bit of a ball.  Many times I would much rather go to God to be held than go on an adventure.

God is working with me on realness.  The becoming.  One day, I know I will be made totally new.  I am really hoping that, if the Rapture happens in my lifetime, God sends an angel to hold onto my wrist.  I sometimes hope there is a closet in Heaven I can go into in case it becomes too frighteningly exciting or majestic.  And thinking of actually leaving my body . . no . . I usually don’t.  I have to just trust God on that one.

But Jesus met me where I was.  He did not just pull me off the shelf and throw me out the window to get some fresh air.  He came to where I was on the shelf.  He began to convince me that it is safe to be outside with Him.

Now I have so much joy in my life, so much love, (and still so much fear) . . in this coming-to-realness.

I want to be real.  Even if it does hurt.

I know God will be right there, holding me in His hand as I change from manufactured to marvelous, from helpless to hopping.  And if I happen to be a screaming Velveteen rabbit in this process . . He will still love me.

That is God I serve.

He is the God-Who-Makes-Real.

“I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life.” (Jesus, quoted in John 6:47a, The Message)


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