I have never read the book The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams the whole way through. Yet, occasionally, someone will post a quote from this children’s book that strikes me as so profound I tell myself I have to read it. The other day I came across one of these quotes and wanted to reflect on it with my readers because of its simple yet profound wisdom. The story is about a velveteen toy rabbit that wants to be “real.” The rabbit was a gift to a little boy who at first didn’t pay it any mind, but later latched on to it and took it everywhere he went. The rabbit loved being with the little boy and enjoyed being played with. There was another older toy known as “The Skin Horse” who gave the rabbit sage advice at times in the story to help him understand what it means to be “Real.” Here is the quote that resonated deep within me that I just have to share:
“He said, “You became. 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.”
That’s some powerful advice that applies to people as much as it does toys. Let me explain. The toys that are most real, that is the toys that have entered into a relationship with the children, are the ones who get dirty, beat up, are rugged looking, and simply worn out. Yet these are truly “real” toys because they’ve entered into a relationship with a child and allowed themselves to be vulnerable and open to the adventures and surprises that living requires. The quote also reminds us the toys most easily entering these life affirming relationships are those that don’t break easily, need careful storage and care, or have sharp edges keeping children at bay. The toys that become “real” are the toys that are inviting, soft, squeezable, friendly, and hearty. Why do I think this description of a toy is applicable to living life well? Because we need to be like these inviting, relationship building toys.
I hope I’m a velveteen rabbit. I hope I invite people into relationship with me. I want to be inviting, not too sharp keeping people away. I want to be the kind of person people are comfortable embracing, not the kind of person easily broken or requiring a great deal of work to love. Most of all I want to be the kind of person comfortable making myself vulnerable so I can experience love. Yes, that means my hair may be “loved off” and my eyes may “drop out” but oh what a beautiful life it will be. The fact I may walk away from life with a number of bumps, bruises, and scars only says I am “Real” and I have lived with passion and commitment to what’s most important. I never want to be the kind of toy that gets placed on a shelf so collectors can gaze at me in a showcase. I want to be touched, engaged, and loved which means I have to realize I’ll look very shabby and worn by the time I come to my life’s end. But I will have lived and as the Skin Horse in the story says, “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.” Living life well means getting down and dirty with other people and being willing to meet them in the mess of life. When you do that, you get dirty yourself. However, the joy and love emerging from these relationships is powerful and worth every popped stich you experience.
We can learn a great deal from the velveteen rabbit. I hope in some way I’ve inspired you not to worry so much about how shabby you look or being afraid of getting broken in some way. Rather I hope I’ve inspired you to desire getting in the mix of life so you can love, laugh, cry, and weep with the people you meet. Otherwise your life is nothing more than a safe shadow box in which you hide from the very thing you were created to be, an icon of love in a world full of hate. A creature of loving relationships in a world of isolation.