To love at all is to be vulnerable. C.S. Lewis
From the time we emerge, wrinkled, red and screaming our heads off in the delivery room, we begin to grow. We bravely take first steps, say first words and train daily for life as a fully realized human. We get skinned knees, scrapes, spills and tears along the way to all the good stuff and then we realize – it might not be all good stuff.
Pinocchio got a crash course in what it means to be ‘real’ when he became a human boy. Suddenly, he had all the best and worst of being real. He also had to choose not to lie, not only to everyone else, but also to himself. We’re all a little like that wooden boy. As we grow, we learn to embrace true selves including all the splintered, broken pieces because it’s in those pieces we learn to be kind, genuinely, and sincerely kind. We learn to say what we mean and mean what we say, trying not to hurt others but empower them. We learn, we learn, we learn. . . if we’re lucky, if we’re aware, we become ‘real’.
Part of being real is being authentic, broken parts and all. It can be really tough to dive deep inside ourselves for our truest feelings but those are the only ones that count. We all get broken in different ways in this thing we call life and need to be mindful of what we experience to stay connected to ourselves. Maybe we could take a page from The Velveteen Rabbit’s playbook; as plush toys go, those guys were pretty evolved. “You become. It takes a long time.” the Skin Horse explained to the Velveteen Rabbit. Real “doesn’t happen often to people who break easily or have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept.”
We grow. We age. We become real. It happens and sometimes ‘reality’ isn’t pretty, but it happens just the same. Most times we have no choice in the matter; our only choice is how we let it change us. So we begin to cooperate with kindness shown us. We feel the warmth of love and immerse ourselves in the good around us. In Anne Lamott’s book, Hallelujah Anyway she talked about the ancient Chinese practice of embellishing the cracked parts of valuable possessions with gold leaf. “We dishonor something if we pretend it hasn’t been broken. We value it enough to repair it, not deny or cover it up. Adorning the break with gold leaf brings up its beauty.” Amen.
When you’re suddenly, startlingly alone, it’s easy to believe that state is all we’ll ever know again. It’s easy to feel that we’ll never feel anything but kneecapping grief again. It’s easy to think that we will never truly feel really loved, really ‘seen’ again as we were with the one we lost. I’m guilty of going down that rabbit hole a time or two, myself. It’s easy to get there, to wonder if I’ll feel whole again without my guy’s fierce love, companionship and just ‘being’. That’s as real as it gets, right?
If we are lucky, we were gifted with people who comforted and hugged us, cherished and treasured us until our ears nearly fell off. When they are gone, their loss brings us to our knees, yet one thing is sure. Bruised, worn, or sad, we have irrevocably been transformed. I think Jane Austin put it pretty well when she said “Our scars make us know our past was for real.”
I’ve had to branch out of the cabbage patch, these last months, and forage for my own damn carrots. They may not taste as vibrant as they once were but they’re actually okay. While I’ll never be thankful for the reasons I’ve arrived solo in this new world, my own ‘real’ is slowly coming into focus. Ready or not, (and believe me, that often that means kicking and screaming) I’m finding my way to a new me.
That chatty Skin Horse told the Rabbit that, “by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, 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.” Whew, good to know.
These days I do feel looser in the joints. While I still have my hair, it gets tossed like a blender by my precious grandchildren whose parents would never have dared. (but then we talked about my hair, right?) While I’m not wrinkled yet, I confess to pulling up my jawline in the bathroom mirror. (Admit it; you do, too.) Yes, indeed, I’m more tarnished and worn but that’s all part of living authentically.
So, Velveteen Rabbit, don’t worry so much. “Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
I’ll take it.