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. – From The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
“Monkey, you look loved.”
Those were the words our nanny spoke as she and IEP were picking up toys at the end of the day. Monkey (pictured) is the starting quarterback on IEP’s team of stuffed animals. There is also a sea lion from the Oregon coast, a bear from the gift shop at The Masters, a mouse from Nanny, a lamb from Williamsburg, and a sock monkey (from Target…). But Monkey is the favorite. Monkey helped IEP give up his pacifiers. Monkey helps IEP sleep in new and different places. Monkey comforts IEP when he is sick or scared. He is as much a part of IEP’s life as any of the rest of us. And it shows.
His seams are worn. His coat is soft, but pilled in places. His once-stiff limbs now flop easily. He’s “gone swimming” with the laundry many, many times. He hasn’t quite reached the Skin Horse’s description in The Velveteen Rabbit, but I suspect one day he will.
Nanny’s comment came at an opportune time. As it turns out, Monkey isn’t the only creature who’s been on my mind lately who “looks loved.” We spent the weekend celebrating the life of GAP’s grandmother. She, too, looked loved. Her body was frail and her skin was wrinkled. And yet she was still completely beautiful. Much like Monkey, and the Skin Horse, and ultimately, the Velveteen Rabbit himself, she was loved, and she was real, and she could never be ugly.
This trifecta of thoughts (Monkey, GAP’s grandmother, and The Velveteen Rabbit) has been dancing in my head for several days now and has prompted me to think further about how we define beauty, and what we may give up in its pursuit.
We work so hard in this life to have big experiences. We embrace laughter and hardship. We travel. We stay home. We get sick. We get well. We fall in and out of love. We break hearts and have our hearts broken. We learn and forget and remember. We want, more than anything, to live our lives fully and to be a reflection of this vast set of experiences. And yet at the same time we work hard to look just as we did when we were young and green and largely stupid. We dye our hair. We don our Spanx. We have facials and Botox and plastic surgery. We try to shed years in every way possible which to me (a regular with my colorist since the age of 24) is paradoxical.
Nearly by definition, we can’t know much of anything when we are 18. And nearly by definition we can’t help but know almost everything when we are 81. If we are very lucky we will all live a very long time. We will scrape our knees and our hearts. We will double over in laughter. And we will love to the brink of implosion. Life will leave its mark on us.
At the age of 33 I still contend with a certain amount of vanity. But in the long run I think I want to be like Monkey. I want people to look at me and say, “She looks loved.” Because ultimately, little else matters as much.