The Velveteen Rabbit (or How Toys Become Real)

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“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 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 the 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.”

“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

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Kindred

I do not crave you

I do not hope and wait and seek you

I do not haunt your hours and stalk your times of solitude

I do not covet your looks and longings, the heady rush of crush and scent

I do not seek your passionate soul that does not know what way it bends

I do not yearn for a quest for me

And yet

Yet I crave the quiet fellowship

Yet I hope and wait and give the gentle words of cheer and challenge

Yet I hold and freely join the laughter of late nights and the joyful and fierce voices of life lived among others

Yet I covet and carefully bestow the hug of greeting, the look of anticipation, the touch that speaks what we cannot, the hand that holds what we do not always understand

Yet I seek the steady pace of life together

Yet I yearn for the grip of faith, the abundant joy of life as one

Yet I crave the love of another, the call to die and be undone, the astonishment of one accord, the profundity of fellowship that seeks not itself

Yet I crave us

And yet

I crave You

With The Bath Water

When data started to accumulate,
we didn’t think the end would be so tragic.
Facts were such fun, we could eliminate
non-facts. And so we threw away the magic,
the charms, the spells, the powers that removed
all obstacles, the sacred images
that won our wars, brought lover to beloved.
Then we threw out the demigods, the muse,
the spirits in the fountains, planets, trees,
followed by symbols, sacraments—what use
did modern myth-free mortals have for these?
Our reason set no limit to our pride.
Did we kill God, or was it suicide?

“With the Bath Water” by Gail White

Published in First Things, February 2015

The FatesMichaelangelo

Snowfall

I tended to be that kid who knew too much and nothing at all. Who snagged information with sticky fingers and wandered on without washing her hands. Who collected a dossier of business cards and phone numbers and scraps of background, because these were the important things. Information was safety, was power, was protection against surprise and, thus, fear. Information was important.

It’s snowing outside. The first snow of the season. Big, white, puffy flakes, tumbling down between rust-red bricks and clinging to scuffed concrete.

I tended to be that kid who loved puzzles and did them too much. Who disappeared into a world where all things fit just right and even the missing pieces were fine if you knew about the blank spots. Who did the same puzzle over and over again, because these scattered pieces would go back together the same way every time. Puzzles were safe, for no matter the shape, they all fit together, and, thus, so could life. Every piece had a place.

The snow was unexpected. I think it likes to be unheralded. Let the weatherman say to expect something, and then laughingly blanket the world in white. Somehow it is both lazy and scurrying, plummeting down to collect in fluffy piles. There are footprints in it now. No snow angels yet, but we didn’t dress to play in it today.

I tended to be the kid who knew things too early. Who collected words like rainwater and then looked them up in the dictionary. Who heard a line in a phone call and an adjective used and added siding to the house everyone had been told was only a blueprint, because these things just allowed a sneak peek behind the curtain. Knowledge was confidence, was confidential, would be worth knowing later, and, thus, worth knowing now. Everything could be known.

The snow is still falling. The students are having a snowball fight in the plaza. Some slide across the sidewalks to class, a few tiptoe, too many grumble. Someone threw a snowball against the window of our classroom. Out of joy or spite, I don’t know. Maybe it was done because that’s just what you do when there is snow on the ground. The snow doesn’t care. It just falls and paints the world white. If you stand still long enough, you can taste the bits of cold and become paint-speckled, too.

I tended to be that kid who did a lot of internal construction. Who heard one word and collected five. Who received an explanation and held it in her hand while digging through the pockets and memory banks to pull out the rest of the story. Whys and Whens and How-Tos were more than loose change for the vending machine of what actually happened. Whys and Whens and How-Tos could be re-used over and over again, because the picture could always use a little more focus and, thus, you were never quite blind. Or blindsided. It all always made sense.

It did not snow that night. We walked in with the lights dim and heard diplomatic words like “strategic” and “re-positioning” and “trends” and “reductions.” I’ve never seen us so silent. Afterwards, we didn’t scuttle across the plaza and make snowballs out of the unexpected matter that fell into our laps. We stood and held hands and prayed over all the words behind the words and all the lives behind the lives and all the undone things behind all the things we could-would-should have done.

The snow is slowing down. Perhaps it’s almost done. Still painting, still careless. Perhaps careful. Perhaps it’s deliberate, the way it settles into corners and the folds of a scarf. They’ve salted down the plaza, so now it’s slushy walkways and a slippery path of almost normal. It isn’t quite, though. It snowed. It snowed, and we tasted it, and it was good. It was beautiful. It is beautiful.

I tended to be the kid that thought too much and not quite enough. Who said too much and only sometimes the right things. Who thought about all the scraps of knowledge and pieces of information and wisps of knowing, because if I knew, it would be enough. As if I could patch the world together with just enough thought. As if I could suture a wound with just the right words. As if I could understand the bruise with just a little more knowing. As if all the information in the world could have kept the trends and predictions and funds and enrollments and reductions and calculated words at bay. As if all the information in the world could have told me how to sit at the back of the room and know what to say or what to do when I actually knew what I had already known. The pieces were all there. The curtain had been hung ajar for a long time. The pocket of loose change had told me, dollars and cents, what I could get. They just didn’t tell me what I could do.

It’s stopped snowing. The first snow of the season. Slushy, slippery, melting between the cracks in the rust-red bricks and scuffed concrete.

They won’t be coming back next year. Probably. Those professors who taught, those mentors who listened, those teachers who lived alongside us for a few years or perhaps a few decades or maybe just a few times a year, baton in hand. I don’t know many of them. I don’t know the what-when-why-how of their lives and losses. I don’t have those pieces. We’re all missing a lot of pieces, walking around with gaps. Some of them are tiny gaps. Some of them are not.

It’ll snow again, hopefully. I love the snow. I love the way it paints the world, and me, too. I love the way it turns dirty corners into white alleys, leaky roofs into bleached canvases, scraggly trees into dusted masterpieces. I love the turning of the world, even for a moment, into something new.

I will always be that kid who thinks she has all the pieces and doesn’t, actually. Who has read all the books and written all the notes and done all the puzzles twenty-six times. Who has heard all the conversations and seen all the signs and noted all the warnings each and every time. Who has actually done less than all of that and will never quite be ready for the actuality of things. But today I stood in the snow and stretched out my arms for the chance to taste something beautiful. But today I knew about the snow and was still astonished at the way it made things beautiful.

There’s a newness here, too, in the holding and the praying and the singing now. And there’ll be a newness there, too, when there are fewer people to participate in the holding and the praying and the singing. But praise to the Maker of snow and life: He still makes new, all things. Maranatha.

Domestic Incident

I hear my neighbor smashing his guitar
against the wall. He’s done it once before
when in a rage. This time he can’t afford
to get another. They’re expensive things.
And yet he loved that wooden box with strings
more than his wife. (Their daughters sit afraid
and wordless under his bizarre tirade.)
Should I call 911, report a case
of spouse abuse? He hasn’t touched her face
or body, simply bellows that she keeps him
from his writing, hovers while he sleeps . . .
She wouldn’t thank me. She remains unmoved,
shelters her little girls and simply waits
while he destroys the only thing he loved
rather than strike the woman that he hates.

“Domestic Incident” by Gail White

Published in First Things, November 2015

Narcissus” by Caravaggio, 1597

Letters From An MBI Student – 7 OCT

Dear Family,

You know what I truly despise?

[maybe this is a rant]

[maybe despise is the wrong word]

[loathe?]

[abhor?]

[detest?]

Carelessness.

[maybe carelessness is the wrong word]

[recklessness?]

[heedlessness?]

[thoughtlessness?]

Those tiny things said, thought, done, undone – chosen without care.

[maybe chosen is the wrong word]

[neglected?]

[overlooked?]

[scorned?]

Is it just a lack of consideration?

[maybe consideration is the wrong word]

[appreciation?]

[deliberation?]

[education?]

Do they know no better; do they think we know no better; do they think we care as little as they?

[maybe care is the wrong word]

[maybe all of these are the wrong words]

[maybe there aren’t good or right words for bumping into the sharp little corners of those who don’t think; and those who think and don’t know; and those who know and were simply human for a moment]

[maybe this is just a rant]

I suppose I know no better, too.

[suppose is the wrong word]

[think]

[know]

[am]

[sigh]

[I am, I know, no better, too.]

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

Rest, Truly

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Dear refuge of my weary soul,

Bastion for this tired heart

Outstretched arms that wait for me

Is this true? Are You not?

 

Come home, all ye heavy laden,

Wandering feet, stumbling tread

Painted on these signs and songs

Yet unsure of this path and end

 

Dear saints, I will give thee rest

But truly rest, from this, from You?

Is this burden from your arms

Or these sleepless hours gifts undue?

 

Jesus, I am resting, resting

Restless in the hands of rest

Hands that give and take and reach

How can these thorns be Your best?

 

Nearer O my God to Thee

Against these that would woo my soul

Out from under, up from below

Wondering, waiting, yet unwhole

 

And yet, How Long, O Lord?

For weary souls to wander home

And will they, Lord? Will they surely?

Will we find Your rest alone?

 

Be Still, my Soul, truly still,

Still in arms of wrathful love

Quiet in a spacious place

Waiting for He who does

 

Before the Throne of God above,

Though we did not ask to come

Footsore, forlorn,

Learning of the love of One

 

O Love that will not let me go,

Incarnate Lover, Severe Mercy,

Wrath of God, Son of Man

Joined to us, the too-long weary

 

It is well with my soul

Well and good and healing yet

Knit with Spirit, flesh and blood

Marked as His toward final rest

 

When the shadow lands are done

When the saints come truly home

When my faith shall be my sight

When my flesh shall seek the light

When this pain shall have no grip

When these feet shall never slip

When these hands shall be remade

When this crown at His feet laid

When all is right and all is new

When this soul knows this as true

 

To You, O Father, let us come

Joined to Jesus, heirs with Him

Marked by Spirit, paid by blood

 

This is rest; life within

This is rest; love undimmed

This is rest; truly Him