Are You Real?

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As a teacher at the elementary level, I had a wonderful time reading children’s books.  I never really liked twaddle, especially when choosing books for children,  so I made an effort to choose books of literature.  In searching for good literature, I ran across The Velveteen Rabbit and was a bit embarrassed I’d never heard of it before.  It is a classic, after all.   (I must have read lots of twaddle as a child.  I hadn’t even heard of The Chronicles of Narnia until I was an adult.)

So here…in case your literary choices were as lacking as mine, please enjoy this excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams:

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “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 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.”

“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.

But the Skin Horse only smiled.

It’s been twenty years since I first read that story, but the lesson it teaches is one that has stuck with me since I was a young third grade teacher reading aloud to the class.  Sometimes I think the lessons taught in children’s literature are lost on the children.  But I’m so glad this one made an impression on me.  I remember deciding the pain I’d felt at that time was worth it.  And now, having had many more years of becoming real, I’m very thankful I’ve not been carefully kept.

The pain from choosing not to shield one’s self from others, can hurt quite a lot.  But it’s worth it in the end. 

Some scars are more visible, but all of them have taught me…

Authenticity is best.   

Loving and being loved…wow…

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14 responses »

  1. I teach reading on the College level, I like to incorporate “good” readings inot my class. I want my students to feel what they read, to understand and hopefully develop a love for reading. It is nice that you are doing the same with your younger learnerss. Good post.

  2. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

    i see you qualified your decision not to mind being hurt with: ‘ in the end’.

    Pain hurts and we DO mind that – often. At. The. Time.

    Later some of us can, with most (but possibly not all) pain see it was ‘necessary’ – or actually helped us deal with or understand (or rarely – avoid) something.

    Then we might be able to ‘not mind’ being hurt, feeling pain.

    If we can get to the stage where we don’t mind the pain because we trust it indicates something ‘necessary’ for our greater good is taking place we might just be getting ‘close’.

    Nice post, Sis 🙂

    <B

  3. Glad you liked the post, Love.

    The pain is not something I tend to embrace in the moment, who does? But I have learned from it…I am to “accept hardship as a pathway to peace…taking this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it…” -Reinhold Neibuhr

    “If we can get to the stage where we don’t mind the pain because we trust it indicates something ‘necessary’ for our greater good is taking place we might just be getting ‘close’.”

    Amen! Hope you have a great Sunday, Love. 😉

  4. Feeling pain, and joy, may be the only way we can be sure we are Real.

    I don’t remember which books I read as a child. I do remember I liked books that had sound effects, and pictures. Comic books, more than novels. I had, and still have, a low attention span. I preferred puzzles, as I now prefer mysteries.

    I found an online edition of The Velveteen Rabbit. I probably enjoyed reading it more now than I would have as a child. 🙂

    http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/williams/rabbit/rabbit.html

  5. Thank you, Ed! I had a great time reading through it all again.

    I do remember, when reading it to my class, I needed to add much expression to keep their attention. The writer is British, so some things are said quite differently than we’re used to hearing. But then, that’s part of what I loved about the book…and Beatrix Potter’s, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. So good. I love the rich language and turn of phrase the English writers use.

    http://wiredforbooks.org/kids/beatrix/p1.htm (In case you’re interested. 😉 )

  6. Soon you will be reading the Harry Potter series…

    I haven’t read them, but my daughter says they are excellent works of literature.

  7. Hmmm…maybe…

    You know, Bad, you just keep pickin’ away at all my “self-righteousness” and someday I might become completely “real.”

    I do appreciate you for it!

  8. I love this post Michelle, it brings back lots of memories. Our vicar, also my step-dad, used to read this to us as children in church. I love the part here where the Skin Horse talks about being loved so much, that the ‘shabby’ bits are not even taken into account. Just love.

    I used to write about the children’s stories I love too – I may have to write some more because as you say, the impressions stay with us 🙂 Lots of love to you xo

  9. It is amazing how the stories can stay with us. I think “The Little Red Hen” was the one that I remember the best. My grandpa used to tell that one in church. Such good memories.

    Lots of love to you, Birg! Needing that love today…so thanks! xo

  10. Me too, Blogger!

    It gets to hurtin’ more the older I get, but at least I know I’m making progress. God isn’t finished with me yet.

  11. I haven’t read this, but Ioved the piece I read here. Hehe, your eyes drop out and you get a bit shabby- yes I can relate:) I think I’ll get this for my niece, we love reading together but I think it will be a while before I can read this to her as she is only three:)

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