Dear Blue Flower Readers,
Thank you for being my faithful readers. The time you have given to reading my posts and to commenting and sharing your own insights has meant the world to me and has kept my fingers flying over the keyboard for this past year. I am writing this post with the knowledge that it may be my last post for a long while, or at least that my posts will become more sporadic. I am grateful to have accomplished what I set out to do this past year. As I began writing weekly posts this year, my goal became to write consistently for at least one solid year: enough to be able to put my entries together into a book of weekly reflections if I choose to pursue that route. Without your love and support, I surely would have given up long ago. Thank you, sincerely, for following me and for responding to my writing! I have enjoyed the process immensely. It is my sincere hope that you might have found at least a few entries that have spoken to you at just the right moment, that have cheered, or prompted you to try something new or to approach something a bit differently. I hope my entries have infused your weeks with welcome doses of literature, revelations delivered through nature, and glimpses of transcendence.
For now, I feel the prompting to mostly direct my writing energies in other ways. As mentioned, I'd like to assemble my posts into a book that could be dipped into each week for reflections and meditations to add soulful, spiritual nourishment to each week. I also would like to develop some of my pieces into articles or to write some fresh, new articles. Perhaps, along the way, I will discover the makings of a full-length book.
For now, I give you this brief, final piece, inspired by Margery Williams,'The Velveteen Rabbit. If you haven't read the story, it is utterly worth a read for its wisdom and tenderness. Just make sure you have a tissue at hand.
The Velveteen Woman
You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real, you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand. ~The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
My mother read The Velveteen Rabbit to me when I was a child, and I remember finding it sad and sweet but not really understanding it. How different my reading of it is now, as a forty-three year-old, slowly aging woman. I recently read the above passage, and immediately realized that this is how I want to grow old. I had been struggling with recent changes in my face: forehead creases, less volume in my cheekbones, a bit of saging around my mouth, and I was trying to decide how to feel about it. One read of this passage clarified how I want to think about aging. I want to accept the growing old process like a well-loved, velveteen rabbit. I don't want to panic if I discover that a lot of my hair has been "loved off," that my joints are growing loose, and that my affect can, at times, be shabby. The velveteen rabbit looks this way because he has been well-loved and has lived a full life. I want to embrace age knowing that the signs of aging point to a full life, well-lived and well-loved.
I don't want to be one of the people the author describes as "break[ing] easily," or as having "sharp edges," or needing "to be carefully kept." As a child, I didn't understand what any of that meant. As an adult, I think I do, or at least I'm closer to understanding Margery Williams' meaning. As I grow older, I don't want to be a woman who "breaks easily," who is easily shattered by criticism or agonizes over what people think of my outward appearance. Nor do I want to be someone rigid, "with sharp edges." I want to be warm and welcoming and easy to talk to. I want to be flexible about life's seasons and the changes time brings instead of resisting them, and in my rigidity, being ever on the verge of brittlely snapping. And I certainly do not want to be someone who has to be "carefully kept." That could mean any number of things. One possible reading suggests the temptation to carefully keep up our appearance at all costs: whether that means turning to fillers, surgery, or other anti-aging measures. Another reading would be that someone who needs to be "carefully kept" is someone who people have to tiptoe around or wait upon, or around whom, people don't feel they can be themselves. I don't want to be that kind of woman either. Despite how tempting it can be in this looks-and-youth-obsessed culture to overly fixate on my changing appearance, this passage from The Velveteen Rabbit clarifies the response to aging that I desire to take. Do you join me in this determination to embrace the effects of aging with acceptance and grace? Perhaps I will even be able to reach a place of appreciation of my well-loved appearance because of how it signifies a life lived. Would you like to take this approach along with me?
The late, great Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue once spoke with On Being's Krista Tippett about our culture's tendency to misunderstand the nature of beauty. He explained, "I feel like, in the book I wrote on beauty, I was trying to say that one of the huge confusions in our times is to mistake glamour for beauty. And we do live in a culture that is very addicted to the image."
Let me repeat that second to last statement: "One of the huge confusions in our times is to mistake glamour for beauty." When I heard that, it was like time stopped for a few seconds as the truth of O'Donohue's statement fired in my brain. How true. That is, precisely, the problem we have with beauty in this country. We confuse beauty with glamour. We confuse beauty with image. We forget that true beauty goes far beneath image, transcends image even. We forget that glamour does a good job masquerading as beauty, but it's an empty knockoff for the real thing. It's like a veneer, a gloss, trying its best to cover up a real, aching, messy human soul. To be honest, it's often trying to cover up what's really beautiful about a person, so twisted has our sense of human beauty become.
The velveteen rabbit is beautiful with his loved off hair, dropped out eyes, loose joints, and shabby exterior. He is beautiful because of all that these external characteristics represent: that he has been loved. That he has lived. That his life has been full, and messy, and peopled by others. That he is REAL. But his beauty also transcends those external elements because he is loved for who he is. The little boy does not care one jot about how the rabbit looks. He loves him because he is his rabbit, he is a joy to spend time with, and he is a faithful companion. He is soft and warm and comforting and Real and game for anything.
This is how I want to be for the people who love me through my old age. I don't want to be preoccupied with being "carefully kept." I don't want to develop "sharp edges" over the unlovely changes that are to come or to crumble or break easily when I compare myself with others or when someone makes an unkind remark. I hope to return frequently to this wisdom of Margery Williams' classic book; may the velveteen rabbit provide a regular reminder for me about how I want to age.
What is your approach to aging? Do you think you could adopt a "velveteen rabbit" mindset when it comes to the inevitable changes of growing old? How would your family and friends feel if they saw you embracing a velveteen rabbit approach to physical changes wrought by time?