On Becoming the Velveteen Rabbit
In the beautiful story of The Velveteen Rabbit by Marjorie Williams, a little boy’s favorite stuffed animal is a rabbit. The boy and rabbit fall in love with each other. The boy loves him so much in fact, that the rabbit’s fur is worn off, his eye is gone, and his other body parts are wearing thin. But at the end, it doesn’t matter, because the rabbit becomes REAL from having been loved so much, and returning this love to the boy. The other characters in the story do not understand why the boy would want an old, dirty and ragged bunny.
This scenario mirrors, I think, how our society views the aged. Instead of seeing the aging process and the aged as real and beautiful, we fear what we are to become. This is evidenced by anti-aging creams, detoxifying formulas, body sculpting surgeries, facelifts, hair dyes, wrinkle serums, and hundreds of other products and advertisements that lead us to believe that the natural aging process is bad and to be feared. We want to cling tightly to our looks, when what we really need to do is shift our obsession with the fountain of youth in order to grab hold of the experiences in life that help us focus on our true strengths. Aging is a grieving process. It takes courage to let go of the familiar and search for what ultimately has meaning.
A lesson we have failed to learn from The Velveteen Rabbit is that as we age, we become more beautiful, having lived and loved fully. My aunt was a great example of being willing to love and be loved, that by the time she died, she looked a lot like the rabbit in the story. Her hair was thinned and white. She lost both breasts to cancer, had two hip replacements that left her with a walker, lost most of her hearing and teeth, had a brain tumor, and lost bodily functions. But she always had a smile.
What helped her become real is embracing the challenges she was faced with and giving all she had. Her special challenge was caring for her son who had been in a wheelchair since age two. He could not care for himself or verbalize his needs. He needed twenty- four hour care. She embraced the call to love with a sense of energy, purpose and love.
As we age, the pendulum must swing back to treasuring the appearance of the heart rather than the skin. We must learn from and value the wisdom and experiences of our most beautiful citizens. We must learn from how they faced life’s challenges. We must listen to their stories, acknowledge their worth, care for their needs and respect their dignity. Welcoming challenges that come with the aging process will help give us what we need in order to be at peace with our outward appearances; knowing that our true value lies within.