|Sculpture at the Dallas Arboretum|
...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 often happen 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, The Velveteen Rabbit
|from The Velveteen Rabbit|
My earliest bookish memories are curled up at my mother’s side (or in her lap) on the scratchy harvest gold sleeper sofa in our den. That couch became the ship that carried us on adventure after adventure together.
We bade good night to the moon and the big green room, good night to the mouse and the little red house. Good night, bowl of mush; good night, old woman. (She whispered, “Hush.”)
We sailed in and out of weeks to the land where the wild things are. We roared our terrible roars and gnashed our terrible teeth. After the wild rumpus, we retuned to find our dinner still hot.
We made way for ducklings through downtown Boston. We folded ourselves into an envelope and traveled by post to visit Flat Stanley’s family. We bemoaned Peter Rabbit’s lost brass buttons and Geraldine Belinda’s lost everything. (Her purse had a hole.) We laughed at Eeyore’s gloom and Tigger’s bounce, and when we had a rumbly in our tumbly we stopped for snacks.
Together, in the safety of her arms, we climbed the Alps with Heidi, found our golden ticket with Charlie, rode in Caractacus Potts’s flying car, grew up with Laurie and the March girls. We kissed frogs into princes and sleeping beauties awake.
We learned from the Skin Horse about becoming Real, and how it could take a long time, and how it doesn’t happen to people who “have to be carefully kept.”
And always, she thought I could, she thought I could, she thought I could, she thought I could.
Once I could read to myself, my sisters took the best spots on the sofa. Then read-alouds stopped.
In my fifth-grade year, Mom began a new adventure. Somehow or other, she began attending Bible Study Fellowship. In the car or while we worked in the kitchen, she would share with me all she was learning. Then she began bringing study pages home for me to do. It wasn’t exactly a read-aloud. More like a read-along.
She began to change and brought a different sort of book home from The Mustard Seed, a Christian bookstore within walking distance of our house. Eventually, the Lord brought me also to Himself and began to transform me. Soon I was reading along with her, or just behind her, books like Mere Christianity, Hind’s Feet on High Places, My Utmost for His Highest, and the classics of Elisabeth Elliot.
By the time I reached high school, I had followed my parents’ lead into teaching Sunday school, and Mom had become my companion at concerts, Bible conferences, and retreats. We had the privilege of listening to Elisabeth Elliot and Jill Briscoe speak in person numerous times. She took my sisters and me to see Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman in concert, even when it meant staying up way too late on a school night.
For the last decade, Wednesday has been our special Bible study day, the grown-up successor to read-alouds. Initially, we went together to the women’s study at our church. When that became too taxing for her 5 or 6 years ago, we moved our study time to her home, with me planning and leading. The last 2 years, even that has been too taxing, so I started a “Mom time” playlist on YouTube. We usually watch videos from The Elisabeth Elliot Foundation or Joni & Friends. She dearly loves watching the Getty Family Hymn Sings recorded during the first year of the pandemic.
Now I am the one reading to her from the Bible or from a devotional book. Soon we may return to the children’s classics, the one childhood place that seems larger when I revisit as an adult.
This weekend is her birthday. She is not only my mom; she is my best and oldest girlfriend. It is a bittersweet celebration this year. The Skin Horse warned us, but we didn’t really understand how much becoming Real would hurt us, in body and in soul. The very good news is that “once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
We are both one day closer to Real than yesterday. One day closer to seeing Jesus face to face. I grieve my mom with every newly forgotten memory, every realization that we will never do that again or never go there. But today I still have her. We will sit on her loveseat. We will give and receive hugs. The birthday song will be sung. Tears will likely fall.
They will be tears of hope though. Real is coming, and it’s a Realer Real than even the Skin Horse could have guessed. She knows Jesus and I know Jesus. Even as we ache now, we cry our tears knowing that every loss and separation are only temporary, because we have forever together with Him to look forward to. Forever with Him—together. And with Mom in Him and me in Him even now, we can never truly be too far apart, even when “most of [our] hair has been loved off, and [our] eyes drop out and [we] get loose in the joints and very shabby.”
Happy birthday, Mom. Thank you for all the books, all the cuddles, all the adventures. Most of all, thank you for always thinking I can and for pointing me to the Real. I love you.
(With grateful apologies to Margery Williams, Margaret Wise Brown, Robert McCloskey, Johanna Spyri, Ian Fleming, Louisa May Alcott, A. A. Milne, Roald Dahl, Jeff Brown, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Beatrix Potter, Maurice Sendak, and Marguerite Henry. Thank you for all the adventures.)