‘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, The Velveteen Rabbit
I loved my stuffed animals as a child. Is there a word stronger than love to convey a shy an imaginative little girl’s attachment to her bedroom menagerie? To describe the light in her eyes and the eager grin on her lips as she wanders through the endless stories filling her towering bookcase?
Mirroring the emotions of these make-believe, yet oh-so-real friends can truly set a child to light. In youth, we never see ourselves as puppeteers or as or teachers; rather we’re brothers, sisters, and friends. When one-on-one with their most special inanimate companions, children don’t chide and criticize. They simply love. In the most pure and natural way possible. As if there were no other choice.
Despite all the new toys–plastic figures, bratty dolls, video games, and more–that favorite stuffed animal always remains relevant. The comfort of a hand held throughout your doctor’s appointment, while lost in the department store, and on the first day of kindergarten will never be forgotten. It’s impossible to discount the adventures of youth: of tree climbing, playing make-believe school behind the sofa, and that one summer where you crossed the state line with your family and stuck your little friend’s head out the window so he could see the ocean better and bask in the warm sunlight and cool breeze.
The Velveteen Rabbit was one of my favorite stories as a child, and though I liked the book, my memories of watching my bulky VHS tape are far more vivid. There was something poignant there, something deeply affective, though I didn’t understand what until I was a bit older. I would hug my own bunny as I watched the little boy love his, and I held my little rabbit even more tightly when the boy had his taken away due to illness. Overwhelmed by crushing sadness, I fought back tears as the boy’s beloved friend was stolen away and tossed into the “burn pile” out back. And then hope was revived when the real bunnies came and taught the Velveteen Rabbit that he could hop, and showed him that he, too, was real.
I cannot read this book without a lump developing in my throat. The Velveteen Rabbit–and so many other children’s books–instantly send me back to the simpler days when the love of a stuffed animal was the greatest thing in the whole wide world.
I believe that somewhere deep inside each of us remains that small child who still loves running barefoot through the dew-dusted grass, sorting out M&Ms by color and creating patterns before consumption, and those unreal fairy tales (but what if…?) Though so many of us claim to be caught up in the busyness of living, I’d guess most of us are still drawn to those simple stories of beauty, wonder, and love. The stories are all around us, they really are. The important stories, your stories. Though we can’t turn back time, we can still strive to love and accept love, to fully trust that embracing our authentic selves will lead to beauty and belonging, and to simply be open to that not-so-far-off possibility of truly becoming real.