What is Real?

Funny story. I got married (no that’s not the funny part)  and I wanted to have someone read a passage from the Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams. So I asked my brother, G., who was traveling all the way from Hawaii to attend our nuptials if he would read the passage at the wedding. He agreed.

As my husband and I stand in front of our family and friends, our Justice of the Peace says, “And now the bride’s brother, G., will read a passage from the Velveteen Rabbit. G.? G.?”

I look at my nephew who was supposed to have given the cards with the book excerpt on it to my brother. He looks at me panicked and shrugs his shoulders and mouths that he couldn’t find him.  So, I grab the cards from my nephew and hand them to my sister who stands up and pulls it off with grace and ease.

The passage is below:

What is REAL?

“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.

10 minutes later, I see my brother stroll into the room where we are getting married and stand at the back with his family. At the end of the ceremony, he comes through the greeting line and says, “Who starts a wedding on time?”

He has since apologized to me and I have since thoroughly forgiven him, especially because everyone needs a good “oh no” story from their wedding. But here’s the kicker (finally). Do you know why he was late? He was getting a haircut and decided he wanted a straight razor shave since he had never had one. This is why I adore my brother.  Because that is exactly what I’d expect from him.

The point here isn’t to publicly shame G. The point here is that what happened to me was real life.  We cannot live our lives without having these unexpected things happen to us. We cannot avoid difficult decisions or hearing bad news. We cannot avoid making mistakes. We have to live our life and do all sorts of crazy things wrong – like miss your sister’s wedding –  to grow and learn. We must embrace it. This is what makes us real. And the good news is that we have control over how we perceive and handle things that don’t go according to plan. What my brother did was not personal to me. Things are not always going wrong in my life. I am not doomed to have a terrible marriage because he was late.

Four years later…

A friend – B. –  and I were having a little chat. B. admitted that she gets anxious when things don’t go according to plan or when she has to make a decision. She’s afraid that she’ll make the “wrong” decision and is worried what that could mean. I told her that you have to work your muscles to make them stronger and that is also true of her life: She has to work through the circumstances of her life and be contented with the results of the decisions she makes because at least they were her decisions.  I told her that the circumstances of her life are facts, but her suffering over those circumstances is optional. After our conversation, she told me that she went and got the Velveteen Rabbit and read it and the passage above- the very one from my wedding – really struck her by it’s relevance to her current situation.

Isn’t that marvelous? Because that’s it. That passage is exactly it. That all of these little bumps and bruises are what make us stronger and more authentic and more beautiful. It’s deciding to get a straight razor shave after you’ve flown half way around the world for your sister’s wedding. It’s the wisdom you get after making the wrong formula 39 times and getting it right on the 40th. It’s about making a decision that is yours-all-yours, even if you change your mind later or it turns out not to have been exactly as expected. Becoming real takes time, and love, and effort. It sometimes hurts. But you won’t care, because you’ve always got a great story to tell once it’s over.