An ode to life.
In the children’s classic The Velveteen Rabbit, the story centers around a stuffed rabbit made of velveteen that a boy receives for Christmas. Like the toys of most other children, the boy plays with it for a period until a newer, more exciting toy comes along. The rabbit gets tossed into his chest with a slew of other worn-out playthings, most notably the Skin Horse.
The rabbit, puzzled and intimidated by the attention other toys were receiving from the boy, exchanged in conversation with Skin Horse to better understand his situation.
“What’s REAL?” the Rabbit questions. “Does it mean having things that buzz and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” the Horse emphasized. “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. The Horse admits that while it does hurt a bit, you don’t mind it so much when you’re real.
The Skin Horse goes on to acknowledge,
“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.”
Before I tell you how you can become real, let me tell how you won’t.
You won’t become real by pretending or putting on a show for people. You won’t become real by clinging onto opinions like keepsakes. You won’t become real by surrendering to your natural inclinations, conceding that you’ve always been a certain way and always will be.
You won’t become real by attempting to renounce fear. You won’t get there by trying to be perfect. You won’t get there by admonishing your flaws to go unrecognized. And you most certainly will not become real by closing yourself off to the world to keep your struggles under wraps.
The journey to authenticity is no picnic. There’s typically an inordinate amount of suffering that ensues in the beginning and it’s rare to believe you’ll see it through. Old ways of being rear their ugly heads at every turn and the temptation to give in to what’s comfortable and certain is overwhelming at times.
But you don’t become real by running from your fear. You don’t become real by fighting it, either. You become real, my friends, by dancing with fear — by opening yourself to the acceptance known as being perfectly, vulnerably human.
The possibility of rejection is always available. Every time you open your mouth you run the risk of having it shoved right back in your face. But as the Skin Horse urges, “Becoming real doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.”
Life is as beautiful as it is fragile. The two are collapsed as a single description. You don’t get one without the other. Think the preciousness of a newborn child, the breathtaking view of the sunset, or the fleeting moment of a loved one’s look in your eyes.
With it all changing in the blink of an eye, we must open ourselves up to receive what’s available. Being real means an honest understanding of both your shortcomings and what you can legitimately contribute. Posturing yourself as something you’re not erodes not only the confidence that others have in you, but the confidence you have in yourself.
As different as human beings seem, we all have the same set of needs. We need to be sure, we need variation, we need to love and we need to matter. These are the needs of the personality, and we fundamentally have the meet them in order to function.
Beyond that, however, are the needs of the spirit: the need to grow and the need to give. Not everyone meets these needs consistently, due primarily to what’s required. (Author’s note: If you’re feeling like something’s missing inside, you may be failing to meet one or both of these needs.)
Growing involves recognizing and accepting your weaknesses, flaws, and deficiencies. These are the areas most people tend to ignore or belittle in importance and are the gateway to levelheadedness and humility. The more we grow, the happier we are. This works at every level, as well — relationship, team, community, organization, and society. You cannot grow in anything however, if you refuse to acknowledge it could be better.
Giving is similar in nature, as it involves an awareness that you cannot receive what you haven’t given. If you’re constantly concerned about what you’re getting, you’re on a road to nowhere. You’ve got to be willing to put yourself out there, get beat up a little bit, and risk being shamed or embarrassed going after what you want. Oh, and giving doesn’t work with ulterior motives. If you treat it like a transaction, you’ll always draw the short straw. Banish expectations from entering your heart — they rob you of all life’s beauty.
Meeting the needs of the spirit is critical to becoming real. They get you outside of yourself and keep your self-worth where it belongs: tucked away neatly in the confines of your soul — always quiet, never questioning.
Becoming real doesn’t mean you’re better than anyone. In fact, it means no comparison at all. When you’re real, you’re more lit up than ever because you know you gave it your all. You know you wagered your heart when you didn’t have to and left your mark on the world. You know you interrupted your selfishness and lent a hand to someone in need. And you know you finally stopped running and danced with your fears.
We only see life through one set of eyes. We can attempt to see it through others’ — something I strongly recommend— but we never will. Wherever we go, there we are. There will always be something wrong if we choose to look for it, just as there will always be something right. Kindness, compassion, and love for ourselves is required to grow and give enough to become real.
But when will you know? You can’t, for every moment is evanescent. We can almost never speak of who we are, as that moment has already left us. We can only speak of who we’re becoming.
So like the old maxim suggests, we have to have faith, hope, and most importantly love — in what’s already there and what will be.
Then hopefully, by the end of it all, we’ll end up like the Rabbit — loved for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loved.
Hopefully, by the end of it all, we’ll become real.