Becoming Real: 40 Days with the Velveteen Rabbit
Day 36 – Tuesday in Holy Week – 30th March2010
She was quite the loveliest fairy in the whole world. Her dress was of pearl and dew-drops, and there were flowers round her neck and in her hair, and her face was like the most perfect flower of all. And she came close to the little Rabbit and gathered him up in her arms and kissed him on his velveteen nose that was all damp from crying.
“Little Rabbit,” she said, “don’t you know who I am?”
The Rabbit looked up at her, and it seemed to him that he had seen her face before, but he couldn’t think where.
“I am the nursery magic Fairy,” she said. “I take care of all the playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and worn out, and the children don’t need them any more, then I come and take them away with me and turn them into Real.”
“Wasn’t I Real before?” asked the little Rabbit.
“You were Real to the Boy,” the Fairy said, “because he loved you. Now you shall be Real to everyone.”
from The Velveteen Rabbit
by Margery Williams
How do you describe what happens when you die? Passing on? Entering glory? Crossing over? For some time now the phrase which has meant most to me has been to describe our heavenly home as the ‘life after life’. A time when, in the words of the fairy, we become ‘Real to everyone’.
When the boy made the rabbit into ‘real’ it meant being turned from something ‘rather splendid’ into something somewhat shabby yet loved. The fairy works differently. She takes those who are old, worn out and not needed anymore and extends their reality beyond the love of the single child who made them real in the first place.
This is ‘life after life’. A realization that, wonderfully, what we see in front of us is not all that is. Life may feel like a rubbish heap, the bonfire may be the only place left for worn out and diseased ridden rabbits but fairies do not have our limited vision. They see not who we are on the surface but how we have been loved and so exchange the tired old parts of us for brand new ‘really real’.
In a pause in our Church’s Passover Meal on Sunday night I read to those gathered the story of The Ragman*. To some it may be familiar, to others not so but the truth it tells is the same as the words of the fairy.
Christ takes our old and replaces them with new, and turns our worn out reality into a ‘life after life.’
God of such unwavering love,
how do I “celebrate”the passion and death of Jesus?
I often want to look the other wayand not watch,
not stay with Jesus in his suffering.
Give me the strengthto see his love with honesty and compassion
and to feel deeplyyour own forgiveness and mercy for me.
Help me to understandhow to “celebrate” this week.
I want be able to bringmy weaknesses and imperfections with me
as I journey with Jesus this week,so aware of his love.
I saw a strange sight. I stumbled upon a story most strange, like nothing my life, my street sense, my sly tongue had ever prepared me for. Hush, child. Hush, now, and I will tell it to you.
Even before the dawn one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking the alleys of our City.
He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes both bright and new, and he was calling in a clear, tenor voice:
(Ah, the air was foul and the first light filthy to be crossed by such sweet music.)
“Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!”
“Now, this is a wonder”, I thought to myself, for the man stood six-feet-four, and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed intelligence.
Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman in the inner city? I followed him. My curiosity drove me. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, sighing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her knees and elbows made a sad cross. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was breaking.
The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly, he walked to the woman, stepping round tin cans, dead toys, and nappies.
“Give me your rag,” he said so gently, “and I’ll give you another”.
He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes. She looked up, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She blinked from the gift to the giver.
Then, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained handkerchief to his own face; and then HE began to weep, to sob as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was left without a tear.
“This IS a wonder”, I breathed to myself, and I followed the sobbing Ragman like a child who cannot turn away from mystery.
“Rags! Rags! New rags for old!”
In a little while, when the sky showed grey behind the rooftops and I could see the shredded curtains hanging out black windows, the Ragman came upon a girl whose head was wrapped in a bandage, whose eyes were empty. Blood soaked her bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek. Now the tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart.
“Give me your rag,” he said, tracing his own line on her cheek,
“and I’ll give you mine”.
The child could only gaze at him while he loosened the bandage, removed it, and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped at what I saw: for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow it ran a darker, more substantial blood – his own!
“Rags! Rags! I take old rags!”
cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman. The sun hurt both the sky, now, and my eyes; the Ragman seemed more and more to hurry.
“Are you going to work?”
he asked a man who leaned against a telephone pole. The man shook his head. The Ragman pressed him:
“Do you have a job?”
“Are you crazy?” sneered the other.
He pulled away from the pole, revealing the right sleeve of his jacket – flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no arm.
“So,” said the Ragman. “Give me your jacket, and I’ll give you mine.”
Such quiet authority in his voice! The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman – and I trembled at what I saw: for the Ragman’s arm stayed in its sleeve, and when the other put it on he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had only one.
“Go to work”, he said.
After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, and old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.
And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling repeatedly, exhausted, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider’s legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.
I wept to see the change in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I needed to see where he was going in such haste, perhaps to know what drove him so.
The little old Ragman – he came to a landfill. He came to the garbage pits. And then I wanted to help him in what he did, but I hung back, hiding.
He climbed a hill. With tormented labour he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he sighed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his bones with an army blanket.
And he died.
Oh, how I cried to witness that death! I slumped in a junked car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope – because I had come to love the Ragman.
Every other face had faded in the wonder of this man, and I cherished him; but he died. I sobbed myself to sleep. I did not know – how could I know? That I slept through Friday night and Saturday and its night, too. But then, on Sunday morning, I was wakened by a violence. Light – pure, hard, demanding light – slammed against my sour face, and I blinked, and I looked, and I saw the last and the first wonder of all.
There was the Ragman, folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead, but alive! And, besides that, healthy! There was no sign of sorrow nor of age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness.
Well, then I lowered my head and trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes in that place, and I said to him with dear yearning in my voice:
He dressed me. My Lord, he put new rags on me, and I am a wonder beside him.
The Ragman, the Ragman,
Ragman by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
from “Ragman and Other Cries of Faith”
© Andrew Dotchin – 2018