One of my favorite stories as a child was The Velveteen Rabbit. Every time I read it, I would cry, but I would still read it again and again. I had a beautifully illustrated copy, with soft, homey drawings, and I can still remember the exact way the pictures looked. Tears come to my eyes, even all these years past, thinking of how the story affected me so deeply as a child.
If you’ve never read this story, the synopsis is this: a little boy receives a velveteen rabbit, which he loves and plays with, and who loves him in return. When he gets scarlet fever, all of his toys have to be destroyed and he leaves for the seaside to recover. Because the boy loves the little rabbit so much, a fairy blesses the toy and makes him a real rabbit, and it soon makes friends with the other real rabbits around the boy’s home. The story ends with the newly-real rabbit seeing the boy from afar with a new rabbit toy, and the boy notices a resemblance to his gone – but still remembered and beloved – velveteen rabbit.
As a child, the story made me cry because it ends with the boy and the rabbit forever separated – missing each other, loving one another, but now a part of two separate worlds. The rabbit, as a part of nature, now has his rabbit friends, who are wild and shy, afraid of humans and unwilling to go close to a house. The boy, of course, has new toys, and even if he loves and misses the velveteen rabbit, can never have him to snuggle and hold again.
But it is precisely their love for one another that saved the rabbit’s life, and allowed him to be transformed instead of destroyed. In turn, the velveteen rabbit provided a comfort to the sick boy that, in all likelihood, helped him get well – we see him at the end of the story with another rabbit toy.
These are some pretty deep lessons for a children’s book to impart – lessons that even adults struggle with. Here we see clearly the law of impermanence. Everything must end, even the most precious and beautiful of relationships, like that between the boy and his beloved toy. But though things are impermanent, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be powerfully formative, a chrysalis for incredible things. The genuine love between the boy and the toy allowed for a miraculous transformation, something wonderful and special.
The end of the relationship between the boy and the rabbit didn’t make it any less great – in fact, it had to end for the rabbit to become real. Both of them have to move on without each other in order to realize better things. The rabbit cannot become real while staying with the boy, and the boy, because of getting scarlet fever, has to let go of his old toys to get better. Despite loving one another, they must let go.
Perhaps it’s just in America, but the society I live in, at least, has a hard time accepting impermanence. We fight the realities of death and aging with all manner of injections, pills, and potions; we stay in dead-end relationships for fear of being alone; we work in jobs we hate because we’re terrified of restructuring our lives, or considering different futures for ourselves that break the mold. We cling to things that seem safe, normal, permanent, instead of acknowledging that everything changes and dies – and miss out on wonderful opportunities because of it.
How many of us are denying our reality, developing facade after facade, and never becoming our real selves, because we’re scared to change? How many of us won’t let go of our velveteen rabbits, dooming ourselves and those we love to suffering, instead of finding freedom, peace, and joy?
It’s true that impermanence is a painful, terrifying thing. I am staring down the barrel of impermanence currently by accepting that the person I love may not love me back, and may not want to be in my life. Funnily enough, my pet name for him is Bunny – he is truly my velveteen rabbit.
Letting go of anything is hard, but it’s especially hard to let go of people we love, just like the velveteen rabbit finds in the story. When you love someone, you want to be with them forever. Deep, true love welds that person to the very root of your bones. Everything within you feels connected to them and your life story feels incomplete if they’re not written into it.
But a love story isn’t always meant to last forever, even if you love them so very deeply. Sometimes people are meant to be a part of your life for just a little bit, to teach you important lessons that make you into a different person. Perhaps my velveteen rabbit is meant to move on too – and to truly love someone, to truly care about them, is to know that when they need to go, you need to let them. True love doesn’t control and it doesn’t demand. It holds and kisses and sometimes, says goodbye.