The Art of Midlife: Courage and Creative Living for Women

By Linda N. Edelstein | Go to book overview

8
"ONCE YOU ARE REAL YOU CAN'T BE UGLY" Authenticity

I will incline my ear to a parable; I will lay open my mystery to the music of a lyre.

-- Psalms 49:5

The payment for illusion? Despair.

-- Talmud: Pirke Avot

Authenticity and subordination are totally incompatible.

-- Jean Baker Miller, Toward a New Psychology of Women

The dilemma of authenticity is poignantly described in the children's book The Velveteen Rabbit. The rabbit is a little boy's Christmas present. He is all a rabbit should be -- "fat and bunchy, with real thread whiskers, a new spotted coat, and ears lined with pink satin." The Skin Horse, who is the oldest and wisest toy in the nursery, becomes the rabbit's nursery mentor. One day, the rabbit asks him, "What is Real?"

"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, . . . then you become Real. . . . It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen 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. . . . Once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like: yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.1

Ah, a midlife rabbit! Our eyes do not have to drop out, but we do have to allow ourselves the discomfort of not being too "carefully kept," which means letting go of the restrictions of being who we should be rather than

-111-

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