“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day. “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 really long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
The Velveteen Rabbit is an ache-y book for me. I haven’t read it in years and this morning felt a stirring to dig it out of the still-unpacked box of books in the boys’ room and read it to Lincoln who is home sick (thankfully not with Scarlet Fever). I read him the first half of the book while he built block fortresses for his Star Wars characters, half-listening. I was thankful today that he is not a great listener to books so he didn’t notice me crying through most of the reading.
You see, we got news today. Not unexpected news (especially because I am a pessi-realist), but news I hoped not to hear (because I believe firmly and wholly in miracles). For the past four years, Rob’s Mom Lynn has been battling cancer off and on. And I DO mean battling. The first round of chemo a few years back was strangely easy. She felt, for the most part, fine. She did not lose her hair. She did not stop babysitting. I’m not sure she even stopped to sit down. But last year it reared its very ugly head again with a vengeance and she has been really suffering with the treatments, which seemed to do little more than make her sick and chase cancer around her body. Today is the day they stop chasing. It is not so much a giving up, but a giving in. Chemo will not win this fight.
“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. 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 hid my face behind the book while I read, for I don’t like anyone to see me cry. It is a whole new world to navigate my own grief and also tend to that of my children. I think of Lynn in this story. She has been made Real by Jesus, so many years ago. Unlike the story, it happens all at once AND bit by bit. Jesus made her Real with his love and there were many times it hurt. His love has loved her joints loose and her hair off and her body weary.
We, too, have loved her that way. All the children she has held and chased and the dishes she has washed and the meals she has made and the stories she has listened to and the prayers she offered up sometimes even in the middle of you speaking because she felt the need so greatly. We have loved her rough and hard, this giant family. We have worn her thin with our love. And loving and being loved has worn her, but made her more Real. She has not become more shabby, but more beautiful.
Real isn’t being shiny and new, pretty or even presentable. Real is losing yourself for the sake of Jesus and for the sake of others. Real isn’t about your house or your list of accomplishments or how many people show up to your funeral. Real is knowing and being known, loving and being loved. Real is loving all the way until you are worn all the way through.
Lynn is so very Real. And though I want to hold her tight and not believe this news, I know that she will soon be made even more Real. The final Real, the REAL Real. I will rejoice for that, but now I ache.
He found that he actually had hind legs!
Instead of dingy velveteen he had brown fur, soft and shiny, his ears twitched by themselves, and his whiskers were so long that they brushed the grass. He gave one leap and the joy of using those hind legs was so great that he went springing about the turf on them, jumping sideways and whirling round as the others did.
He was a Real Rabbit at last.