One of my earliest memories is of a car trip from Los Angeles north to the faraway coastal retreat of Carpinteria to visit friends. At least, to my young self it seemed a long, long journey. Part way there, I discovered that my beloved stuffed dog Lady was still at home. How could I travel hours and hours without my Lady? I could not.
I’m sure I cried. What I remember is that my dad turned the car back to LA and we went home, retrieved Lady, and turned north once again. I’m sure I clutched Lady the entire trip. I remember holding her tightly later that day as we walked through fragrant lemon groves in Carpinteria. I apparently clutched Lady the same way not only during that trip but over many months and years. Because this is what Lady looks like today.
Lady has no neck.
And no soft fur. And she’s lost some stuffing. But she certainly has had lots of love. She is “real,” in the way that the Velveteen Rabbit became real.
From “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams
“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.”
I’ve kept Lady, partly because she’s so old she’s an antique, and antiques fascinate me. And partly because you can’t look at her without seeing how much and how ardently I loved her till she was truly shabby.
Since that childhood trip to Carpinteria, I have loved many people (as well as Lady). Fortunately, they all still have necks. But I hope I’ve moved some of them closer to being real. I hope they know how much I love them, even if I don’t clutch them so tightly and take them along on every car ride. Because life is about love. “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” I started learning that eons ago, and I’m still learning, always learning. And I’m going to keep Lady around to remind me that love isn’t always clean and pretty and sometimes it hurts and your insides get rearranged. And that’s all part of being real.
What’s your earliest childhood memory? What does that memory say about who you are today?