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"What is Real?"

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My son and I are having lots of conversations these days about what’s “real” and what’s not. Some of this prompted by scary things he sees on TV (oh how I wish some of them WEREN”T real). Some of this is prompted by his new fascination with Calvin and Hobbs. “Is Hobbs real?” Mostly I think he is growing up and trying to make some sense out of the world that comes flying at him at lightening speed every single day.

As we were drifting off to sleep last night, he wanted to know if he could make his beloved stuffed dog “Polka Dots” real. “What does real mean?” he asked.

You know what’s coming next, right? I mean does anyone explain “Real” better than Margery Williams in The Velveteen Rabbit ? Promised to read this to him tonight. In the meantime, I thought I would share this timeless passage with all of you. 🙂

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. 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 your 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; once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

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