“My mom ALWAYS cries when she reads this story to us,” my son loudly proclaimed to the librarian as we stepped up to the desk with a movie adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit. The librarian nodded and looked at me with a knowing smile. “Yep, it gets you right in the feels, doesn’t it?” she asked.
Oh, does it ever. We get about three pages in, to the part where the Velveteen Rabbit is learning about becoming real from the wise old Skin Horse, and I’m gulping and sniffling and struggling to keep reading while the tears blur my eyes and my kids are patting my back and saying “mom, it’s okay! It’s okay!”
Whenever I cry in front of my children, my daughter always asks, “Mommy, are you crying because you’re sad or because you’re happy?” And when she asks in the midst of one of my Velveteen Rabbit meltdowns, I never know how to answer. Well, am I happy? Or am I sad? I’m just not sure. The answer is… both. It feels like a polyphonic deluge of feeling with the beauty and the sadness so intimately intertwined as to be inseparable; two sides of a single emotion. All I know is, it’s real.
I think the story pricks so many tender emotions because it tells our story, or rather the story God wants to tell in our lives. For us to become “real” and embrace an even more majestic future, something must be lost, often something precious but something whose time has passed. Loss and gain, surrender and persistence, nostalgia and hope – these pairs can’t be divorced. But we resist.
I told a friend once that when I’m feeling pessimistic and overwhelmed by the bigness and ruthlessness and sometimes outright badness of this world and I gauge it against the tenderness and vulnerability I see in my children, I wish I could just fold them back into myself. “Oh, well, THAT’S healthy,” my friend sarcastically exclaimed, and we laughed. But it’s true. The tension is real. When my kids were really tiny, I remember spending entire days feeling filled with dread about the passing of time, days when the cliche “the days are long, but the years are short” rang so true and I’d project years ahead and my heart would cry “no!” and ache at how everything changes.