A bit ago, Amanda Palmer posted a picture on Twitter of a group of stuffed animals, asking which of them should tell her what she should do. I replied that the lamb in the middle should get the honor because it seemed the most tattered and worn–therefore, the most real.
When I was the age my son is now, I was obsessed with the Velveteen Rabbit. Well, actually not the book but the concept that you could love something so much that it would eventually become “real.” I had a little stuffed lamb that I imaginatively called “little lamb.” I took it everywhere, holding it by its ear. Everywhere. Any picture of me at during this time contains that little lamb clutched in my arms. Even then, it was already ratty, discolored, and threadbare. I don’t remember what it looked like new and there aren’t any pictures of it in that state.
Once I learned that stuffed animals wanted to be real and that I could love them into being real, I was determined that this lamb wasn’t going to leave my side until it walked away on wobbly real legs of its own.
The problem with this strategy was that little lamb wasn’t my only stuffed animal. I had an entire slew of them, and as much as I loved little lamb, it felt so completely unfair for me to neglect making the other animals real as well. I mean, if the book was right, then they were all longing for that to happen. How could I just pick one and let the others molder in my bedroom unloved, alone.
So I began strategically taking turns with which stuffed animals I brought with me each day. Always little lamb, but with little lamb would come, maybe, Rocky Raccoon (better name) or Teddy Bear (yes, an actual teddy bear). Arms full of fluffy creatures, I would hike with my brothers in the forest, play baseball at the local diamond, climb the madrone tree that served as the structure of our fort.
It’s hard to do things with your arms full of animals you should love but don’t really. Whereas little lamb had convenient ears to grasp when maneuvering twisted and red-skinned tree branches, most of my other animals weren’t as portable. Plus when you are juggling two or more in your arms, something’s going to fall. I tried to be fair because, in my view, everything deserves to be loved, but eventually–deserved or not–I just couldn’t do it. And because the pressure to love equally was so great, I stopped taking little lamb with me as well.
Thinking about this now, I realize that my experience with little lamb illustrates my view on love and loving as an adult.
1. Everyone deserves love. However, you don’t need to love everyone equally. It’s okay to love some people more than others. However, living in love still needs to be the overriding principle.
2. Love makes us real. Both in receiving and giving love. When someone loves us, we become more tangible, more concrete in the best version of ourselves. When there is love, we matter.
3. Love wears you out. It breaks you. It tears you up. It leaves you tattered and threadbare (and sometimes, in the case of Teddy Bear, headless). Being open and vulnerable to love and loving–to becoming real–will make you ragged and dingy.
4. Love makes us valuable. Despite tears where the stuffing oozes–despite discoloration and musty smells, when we are loved and live in love, we have value. We possess something that transcends any worn exterior.
Little lamb never did wake up one morning covered in matted wool and wander into the forest on delicate hooves, brown eyes glistening in the dawn light. I know because I didn’t get rid of little lamb. I still have it along with a select group of animals that mattered to me. I don’t keep them in a creepy formation on an old rocker in the guest room. Nor do they lean against the pillows on my bed. Most of the time, they stay in a basket on my bookshelf where no one can see them. Every once in a while, I pull them out to reconnect to that girl of 25 years ago. The one who was certain she had enough love for the whole world.
Like Amanda Palmer, I might ask them what I ought to do. However, I really don’t need to. I already know the answer: