I had one of those ‘moments’ today as I passed between the bookcases in the bedroom. It is odd the things that make it through the veneer of calm acceptance. In this case, it was the characters in books… characters I had first met as I snuggled within the circle of my mother’s arms. Characters like Aslan and Reepicheep, whose stories I had read, decades later, to my own sons while I held them too in my arms… creatures to whom I had hoped to introduce my granddaughters too. But, of course, it isn’t really about the characters… it is all about the memories and the love in which they shared.
There is a lot of wisdom in books, and children’s books in particular have always held a place in my heart for the gentle wisdom they hold. Moments of pure gold are scattered through many of the best children’s stories, often missed for what they are when we encounter them as children, only to unfold for us in later years. Yet the stories that gain a hold on our hearts when we are young teach us a great deal… even if we are not aware of it.
They take us on adventures that run the gamut of emotion; facing dragons and monsters, discovering new and magical worlds full of goblins and fear, dread dangers and daring rescues… but they always seem to lead us to the happy ending bathed in light and laughter.
It was C. S. Lewis, the creator of the Narnia stories, who said that a story that could only be read by children was not a good children’s story. This, I think, is true. Often we only realise the full import of what is before our eyes when we read to our own children the tales that once lit our imagination. I for one still read them, though my children are long grown.
I was reminded recently of a passage from The Velveteen Rabbit. Now granted, when applied to the human condition it might not paint a very attractive picture as a proposition. Bits tend to ‘get very shabby’ as the years pass without any outside help, thank you very much, without the prospect of eyes and limbs simply dropping off. On the other hand, looked at from the perspective of, say, a teddy bear that has been hugged and cuddled, cried on, fed jam sandwiches and dragged around by one ear while listening to the secrets of the heart… from that perspective it sounds like heaven.
In the story, the Rabbit is being taught by an old Horse about the magic of becoming Real because of the love toys have been shown. Imagine what it would feel like to be loved so much that “most of your hair has been loved off”. Yet we shouldn’t have to imagine. We are all capable of being loved like that. Most of us know love from parent, friend, sibling, child or partner. Even our pets. We know how it feels. We know what it is to see eyes light up when we walk into a room… and what it is to be the one whose arms are sought in times of fear and sadness.
We can love ourselves too. The self-help books are full of the ways to do this and, though it is not as simplistic as it might seem, it is thing worth doing. That love depends on our ability to accept ourselves as we are, warts and all, as the saying goes. To recognise what needs to change without judging or recrimination. To accept what is good about ourselves too as well as what is not; something that cannot be done until we first learn to know ourselves, understand ourselves and then “…these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
To learn to know ourselves, shabby bits and all, and still accept is a step towards that unconditional love that cannot judge, though it sees true, that accepts without demand, that asks nothing but to be itself and give itself… to be love. You might call this the love of the soul for the child we are in its eyes. You might see it as the higher self, the conscience … it doesn’t matter what words we use, the idea is the same. There is a part of each of us that knows a finer level of being.
There is another love too. Many, myself included, believe in the divine Love of the creation within which we live. A Love that reaches out to us in measure that we reach up to It in awareness. For me, the life I live stems from this source and is therefore an expression of Love itself.
Like the battered bear, or a velveteen rabbit, that is squashed by the building blocks in the toy box, left out in the rain by mistake, forgotten, apparently, or discarded for a while … yet is searched for at night… we are loved. Life can be hard and painful, joyous and bright… and sometimes all at once. Yet if all stems from the source of Love then that too is part of our story, written to teach both our inner child and our adult mind as we ourselves grow and unfold. Woven with love our stories can yet seem to lead us through darkness. But perhaps, as we walk through them carrying the scars of life, we can learn to see them as ‘loved off’ fur and ‘loose joints’ … and know that the more we love and know Love, the closer we get to becoming Real in our own eyes. And “…once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”