Thinking about Milton, I’m reminded again of this children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams first published in 1922.

I’m not sure how young I was when I was introduced to this story. I don’t think I could read yet. I don’t even know who introduced me to this book since it’s not the type of book my parents would typically read to their children.


The Velveteen Rabbit. I remember that a little boy is given a velveteen rabbit as a gift. I think the velveteen is some type of material, but my little girl mind doesn’t really care. I just like the idea of a stuffed rabbit as a gift.

velveteenrabbitSo the boy receives this gift among many other gifts and singles it out as the most important. (Thumbs up! I like this boy already.) He brings his rabbit with him everywhere and integrates him into all his daily activities. (Extra thumbs up.) He even wishes the rabbit was real and could talk to him.

Then the little boy gets sick. Something terrible. Contagious. They think he might die. Somehow, the boy recovers. But they (the big, bad adults) take away all his toys, even his rabbit. The toys are contagious. (I thought they weren’t real.) They burn everything. The boy is devastated. His best friend is gone. (Duh.) They (the big, bad adults who have gotten bigger and badder) tell him to get over it. Then, they rudely execute a curtain call and the story ends.


At least that was my impression of the story. If it’s possible for a young child to be indignant, I was. I didn’t understand how something so good (the rabbit) could become so bad. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was convinced that the rabbit saved the little boy’s life. Burning the toys? Was that really necessary? Why did it need to be irrevocable? Were they punishing the boy for getting sick? Punishing the rabbit for getting him sick? I think I went and held my stuffed animals a little tighter. No one was going to take them away from me. I would build a brick house around them first.

Frankly, I’m surprised that I remember this story at all. And it’s impressive how much it relates to my own life. The questions I had as a child have come back to haunt me, particularly as adults try to make sense of a very confusing situation known as a chronic illness. Are you sure you’re not acting out to get attention? Why are you seeing another doctor? Why haven’t you taken this medication? Why have you missed school again? I’m taking away this thing because it’s “bad” for you….

Reflecting on this story, I see a couple of life lessons:

1) Different people are attached to different things. And in moments of vulnerability, we cling to them.

2) Illness is not fair. Nothing about it is fair. There are things that you can do to be a responsible human being, but at the end of the day, you’re not in control.

3) Being vulnerable and not being in control is hard. It’s hard to comprehend as the subject. It’s even harder to understand when it’s happening to someone else.

4) Grief takes many different forms. People grieve over different things because they are attached to different things. They grieve in different ways. That grief should not be brushed to the side.

5) Sometimes we need friends on our level. Friends that pay attention to us and not to our illness (or achievements or skin color or…) We need someone to just be there for us.

6) My memory of storytime is pretty shaky. Read the book. Note the difference in the storyline.

A blast from the past (my past and the real past),

Abigail

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