In memory of Sonia March Nevis
Gestalt trainer, wise woman, practitioner of the art of ordinary
One rainy day when going to the playground was a no go, I read The Velveteen Rabbit to our five-year-old granddaughter. It had been a long time since I’d read it to my children and I liked it a lot better than she did–so much so that I’ve searched for ordinary words to say why getting to an ordinary kind of real is so important.
Do you remember the story? A velveteen rabbit was given to a Boy on Christmas. “He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white; he had real thread whiskers and his ears were lined with pink sateen.” The Boy quickly forgot about him, so he lived in the toy cupboard where, because he was “only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him.”
The cheaply made and nameless rabbit wondered what Real was. A wise old Skin Horse whose coat had worn off explained that “Real isn’t how you are made, 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.” The lonely rabbit longed to belong to a child, to be loved, and to become Real.
“Does it hurt?” asked the rabbit. Like most of us, he longed to become Real without too much difficulty. The Skin Horse explained: “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt…It doesn’t happen all at once…You become. It takes a long time.” The plus is that “once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts forever.”
One night the rabbit was chosen to sleep with the Boy. The Boy rolled over on him, which was decidedly unpleasant, but then played with him daily. As time passed, the happy rabbit failed to notice that his velveteen fur was getting shabby and his tail was coming loose. The unique marks of love wore away manufactured perfection, and one day the Boy pronounced the rabbit Real.
It is plainly so: getting to ordinary starts with an initial awakening into a self that feels Real. Only another’s devoted attention enlarges being and brings meaning: we matter to someone. It takes two to create one who feels Real. Although I would wish everyone this magical awakening, which is supposed to get a running start in childhood, we also know that Real that depends on another cannot last–either for Rabbit or ourselves. We must achieve a separate sense of self.
In stories, this hard and necessary separation is often imaged as a farewell to the other. In this story the Boy gets sick and Rabbit, along with infected bedding, must be burned. Forlorn, mourning the never-again days with the Boy, and accepting his fate with simple sadness, Rabbit feels a real tear trickle down his dingy little face.
Tears are part of the inevitable sorrows of life. We will lose our innocence, some of our beliefs, our faith in forever, and beloved others. Tears are how we let our hearts break. When Rabbit feels utterly bereft…
…the nursery fairy appears. She transforms Rabbit from Real to real. The fairy—symbol of the discovery of an indwelling self—doesn’t create a unicorn or even an eagle, but an ordinary rabbit. He can twitch his ears, nibble good things, and find real rabbit friends. It turns out that real life is gloriously ordinary, and I hope all of us get there.
So I have to get hopping now. We’re almost out of milk, I need to pick up the mild green olives our granddaughter likes, and get winter sweaters to the dry cleaner. Biscotti at the Italian bakery, maybe a gelato (as long as I’m there), and a birthday card. It’s an ordinary day.
Deborah Stewart is a Jungian Analyst on Cape Cod. She trained with the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and the Westchester Institute for Training in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. She is a faculty member of the Philadelphia Jung Institute and sits on the board and faculty of the Gestalt International Study Center on Cape Cod. Previously, she trained as a Gestalt therapist at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. She can be reached at http://www.DeborahCStewart.com