"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.
It is funny that we as human beings like things shiny and new. We throw things away, we trade them in for a newer model, we update …. We cling to youth, we cling to beauty, we cling to those things which really are so fleeting and temporary. We want the romance of love but not the substance.
I always loved ballet shoes … the ones that were old and scuffed and used. I loved to think of the women dancing in them and all the stages they had been on. I always imagined that the shoes told the most amazing stories. I was amused to find out later in my life that ballerinas actually scuff up new shoes ….no-one wants shiny new ones.
I have always been drawn to people and things that are old and used. I love a man's hands that tell of his willingness to work hard. I love a tall old tree, and trying to imagine all that it has known and seen. I love old houses and old bits and pieces of things tucked away and forgotten. To me the discovery is not just about the way something looks but the imaginings that go with it as I think about what it is, what it was used for and the stories it might tell if it could speak.
Most of all I love people who are real.
Our lives make us beautiful. Each experience marks us in some way and bears it's witness on our body. Some are scars, some are lines, some give us light in our eyes, some bend us, some quicken our step. Evidence that we are real, that we are loved, that we have not lived our life protecting ourselves from everything, but that we have opened our arms wide and embraced life. To me it is a beauty far beyond any perfect painted face of a 17 year old girl.
Sometimes life scrubs off all the paint, takes off the hard edges, breaks through to the softness within, to reveal the real beauty within. The real beauty within is something that touches more than the eye. It is a beauty that runs through our veins - with an understanding of a finer purpose than "pretty."
I hope that during this holiday season when we package everything up with ribbons and bows and tinsel and lights that you will look beyond all that and see the real beauty in the people around you. Most of all I hope that you look in your own mirror and not only see that beauty within yourself … but that you embrace it.