“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day…
“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]
Real talk, straight out of a childhood favorite that I was reminded of while reading Brené Brown’s, Daring Greatly. Somehow I remember relating to the rabbit more than the Skin Horse even back then. It seems the challenge of being real–genuine, not artificial, authentic, “loved off”–has existed since the beginning. I suppose then the always truthful Skin Horse is right in his acknowledgement of realness being a, “becoming”.
In her book Brown stated this:
“When I look back on what I’ve learned about shame, gender, and worthiness, the greatest lesson is this: if we’re going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of what were supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”
There is that “v” word again. Vulnerability. Most of the time I feel like a tree in the winter afraid to shed its leaves, a mask collector in this crazy costume party known as life, a hoarder of all things comforting: decorative pillows, artisanal dark chocolate, long sivasanas, existential Rumi poems, old photographs, oversized clothing, essential oils. Achievements. Make-up. Time. Bollywood movies. The Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]. I’ve been staying carefully kept for quite some time.
During graduate school I taught an undergrad Science of Nutrition course. I’ll never forget the time I showed up at a local ice cream joint and was greeted by one of my students with a bonafide, “Busted!“
How many times in your life have you been asked, “What do you want to be when you grown up?” We’ve been raised to define who we want to be, while existing in a culture of clones that expects us to be a very specific way. Be a dietitian, but don’t eat the ice cream. Do what you love but not if it isn’t making dollars and cents. Get married but not to a person of the same sex. Share your ideas and creativity but not if it is too out of the box. Practice your own faith, but what would Jesus do? There is this saying, “The opposite of courage is not cowardice; it’s conformity.” When we aren’t willing to be brave and broken for it, we conform and lose touch with what is truly real.
Often it feels like a game of hide and seek. We are enticed by vulnerability and then burrow away when it becomes too painful and uncomfortable. Realness doesn’t happen all at once and it does take time. Be courageous. I’ll look for your light as I explore my own wilderness and you look for mine. I’m certain there is enough buried treasure waiting to be [re]discovered for both of us and enough love in the world to find it, bit by bit.