“What is REAL?” the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse one day.
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “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.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “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. But once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
When Mike and I got married 4 years ago, we had several of our favorite passages framed to greet guests at the ceremony. This one made the cut. And over the past several months (years?), I keep asking myself, “What is real?”
Did I make this life up?
Did I really go to India, volunteer with tiny people, make an impact, get my heart crushed, and travel around the country alone, pushing my comfort zone?
Did I really canoe in the Utah backcountry, kayak in Wyoming white water, eat street tacos in Mexico City, drink wine in Portugal, see Trombone Shorty at JazzFest in New Orleans, walk on a glacier in Iceland, listen to Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and pick agates on the beach in northern Haida Gwaii…with new and old friends?
Did I really only see Mike for an hour on our 4th anniversary on May 28?
Did I really share the most rewarding win in my professional career via the Marine Planning Partnership, after 10 years of being part of the slog?
Did I really lose another friend, Heather, to this dreadful disease? Heather, who wore a superwomen cape while we paddled between towering cliffs and hiked among ancient Native American dwellings? Whose wife and children will carry forward with Heather’s light illuminating the way?
Did I really gain 20 pounds this year and have to buy all new pants?
Did I really care?
Did I really start snoring this year from said weight gain and menopause (myth: stomach sleepers don’t snore)?
Did my dad really get diagnosed with a second primary cancer in his bladder, on top of his metastatic renal cancer? Did they really prescribe him with weekly chemo and more IV chemo to come in July? Does my mom really get several hours of sleep each night?
Did I really take on co-editing the next BAYS Anthology, rubbing my last brain cells together to make it work, sobbing upon reading some of the stories, and spilling my heart’s contents into my own stories? Did I really do this in honor of my dead friend Erin, after I took over her role as President of BAYS?
Did my family really sell my mom’s childhood home, GG and Pop’s home, where we spent so much time just being my whole life, to a young family who will make their own memories?
Did another friend really get diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer? And face whole brain radiation as a poor and poorer alternative for “healing”?
Did I really have to make the harsh decision, based on new science, to keep on these monthly shots for another 2-3 years?
Did all of these friends really bring the miracle of life into the world (the Nedell’s, the Chicago Martin’s, the Zebra’s, the Columbus Martin’s, the Moran’s, the Family-Resendez’s, the Harper’s)?
Did it really hit me that this is what it’s all about?
I’m learning how to survive and in the process, how to live. But sometimes I have to touch my feet to the ground, feel the gravitational pull of the earth, tap my hands on my legs, close my eyes, notice the blood pulsing through my head, breath in to connect my body to my soul. Because this is REAL.
I am REAL.