It seems I’ve learned the greatest things from the simplest of thoughts or moments. I’m continuing to realize that the truly profound things are not usually wrapped in a bow and ribbon, delivered with pomp and circumstance, or awarded with feasting and revelry — but rather they are hidden away in moments easily looked over, or housed in things often thought to be old-fashioned or shabby. They are usually clothed in purity, grace, duty, or honor, which are the has-been clothes of long ago. Yet the reality of this we call existence, is wrought, bound, and undergirded by these notions, whether we choose to simply ignore them or replace them with our greed, busyness, lethargy, narcissism, laziness, virtual and transhumanistic hyper-realities we now define as the increasingly vague term: progress.
I am struggling with this elusive progress, partly because, as it is made clear by our post-modern society, it is always a moving target (and not in a good way). This remains problematic, and looks to be leading inevitably and irreversibly to the finish line we are now seeing all around us daily. What we seem to be doing is exchanging a reality of human (what some know to be called imago Dei) for something else entirely, something much darker (whose darkness is only made more potent by the notion that we don’t see it as dark). We are collectively and continually losing something — in a similar way as to how night descends — it is often slow and difficult to tell it is happening. It isn’t a light switch, abruptly turning on and off.
And so I recently came across some simple words that it sparked something immense in my heart. I read it long ago, as many have, but had forgotten it. Yet here it is, an excerpt of a children’s story now nearly 100 years old that still rings as bright and true as it ever has:
“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.
“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
— Margery Williams Bianco; “The Velveteen Rabbit”
There is much here, but like an undercurrent, it is not easily seen though simple. I think it can be captured, in a way, here:
“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.”
At the true crux of this is the notion that we, as human culture, have something really out of whack (and have for a long time). Yes, it is related to our perceptions of beauty and self, but I think it is a virus that goes much, much deeper than our skin. We strive and complain and then feel terrible and then feel great and worthy and then feel terrible, and then feel worthy again, all the while striving and complaining. The daily winds of circumstance blow us about. (I say “we,” because I do this myself all the time). Our conception of what is ‘real’ what is ‘normal’ and ‘Good’ and ‘worthy’ is really messed up (for most of us, anyway).
We now see things like this and often say “yikes, that’s bad,” but let’s be honest: most don’t really understand the real gravity of what is happening here.
It seems like over a very (very) long time, we have (as the expression goes) “been sold a bill of goods” that has resulted in an ultimate distortion of reality that is very difficult for our collective minds and hearts to escape from. Confusion reigns. Where are the simple things, like Care, and Gentleness, and Service, and Humility (and on and on)? Yes they are there… perhaps with you, dear reader… But don’t you see how they are slowly disappearing on the horizon, like the weary sun after a long days ride in the sky?
“Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn’t mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn’t matter.”
— Margery Williams Bianco; “The Velveteen Rabbit”
The most important things are hard to see and hard to learn, but paradoxically easy to find if you are looking for them. Yet when they are seen or learned they remind us of childish things, as if only distantly remembered. Becoming Real is one of these things, I’m finding.
“He didn’t mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn’t matter.”
This is sarcastic comedy (and Millennials are hit hard), yet it is brutally painful in its accuracy…