This paragraph didn’t mean much to me when when I first read The Velveteen Rabbit in third grade, in Mrs. Myer’s class, at St. Mary’s elementary school.
I remember finding the book in the school library, looking at the cover, thinking how the story was about stuffed animals (which I loved) made out of velvet (even better, because velvet was a plush fabric), and was probably pink (my favorite color at the time).
I didn’t have a favorite book genre at the time, as I was a voracious reader. Books were my main escape tool; both of my parents were alcoholics, meaning drama was high, craziness a way of life. Books were my salvation.
Eventually, books weren’t enough of an escape and I found booze, but you know that already. This piece is about rediscovering this old story, and finally understanding its message.
After reading The Velveteen Rabbit for the first timeas a 9-year-old, I was disappointed. I didn’t like it, and I had set myself up to like it — which sucked. Although I comprehended the words of the story, there was an underlying message that was over my head, and I didn’t like not understanding what I was reading, especially when the message was spoken by a stuffed animal. I don’t like feeling that I can’t ‘get’ something; I didn’t like it then, as a third-grader, either.
So, I tried to force myself to understand the message of the rabbit. It felt phony, awkward, plastic. I wanted to know what it meant, because others around me (older than me) got it. Finally, in frustration, I turned the book back in to the library and forgot about it.
The message of The Velveteen Rabbit is about becoming. Or, more accurately, letting ourselves evolve into becoming real, authentic. Forcing that evolution brings frustration, pain.
Becoming can wear us out, physically and mentally. We become tattered, we lose a button or two; we develop worn spots here and there. If we are hard on ourselves, if we force our understanding and growth before we are ready, we won’t get the idea that we need to stick it out through the tough times, to get to the other side, so that we are changed for the experience. I didn’t appreciate this until half of my hair started turning gray.
Most of us, who lack that maturity, force ourselves to grow before we are ready, and when we get frustrated, leave before the miracle happens. That was, pretty much, the story of my life before sobriety.
This forced growth was the story of Emmett’s life, too. It was observed by others that while Emmett had the talent and intelligence to become something great one day, if his growth was forced before he was ready, there would be negative consequences.
In thanksgiving, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I appreciate the struggle to become shabby. I don’t always appreciate it; but now that I’ve had some time to think about where I’ve been, what’s happened, and the gift of accepting my alcoholism, I realize that I couldn’t have had this treasure of a book project any earlier in my lifetime. I wouldn’t have appreciated it. I would have written Emmett off, and not stopped to see the message in telling his life story.
Happy Thanksgiving, one and all!
The University of Maryland Global Campus