|'The Velveteen Rabbit' or 'How Toys Become Real'|
Nothing cheers you up quite like a funky new haircut. Especially when your hair has begun to drop out.
It could be a lot worse, I hasten to add. My wonder drug is much kinder than conventional chemo, so the loss is patchy rather than all over - plenty left for my Guardian Angel, the lovely Linda, to work with. Short layers have given it a bit of body, and made a nice base for my quirky new hat to sit on. So I feel altogether more confident about leaving the house. More than that, too, just the feel and touch of having it sorted was a therapy in itself.
As I've been watching my body collapse into disrepair over the last few weeks, I've found myself remembering one of my all time favourite children's stories - 'The Velveteen Rabbit' by Margery Williams. If you don't know it, it's available free on-line, along with all the beautiful original illustrations:
It's the story of a toy rabbit who arrives at a little boy's home for Christmas. As he settles into life in the nursery, he asks his new friend, the old skin horse, what it means for a toy to become "real". This is how their conversation goes:
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."
So today, this is for everyone whose body feels as though it is failing and falling into disrepair, everyone who is becoming bald or loose in the joints or shabby. Once you are real, you can't be ugly. Except to people who don't understand.