To prepare for the weekend, I worked a few hours to organize the basement—tidying up the empty nest, so to speak. I wanted to create more “hang out” space for the college students and their friends.
One project involved boxing up old books and rearranging our bookshelves. With the children out of the house during the school year, many more of my books could replace theirs in the main bookshelf upstairs in the living room.
Off the shelves came The Hungry Caterpillar and other bedtime picture books. Next went their grade school story books like Green Eggs and Ham and Strega Nona. Finally I packed up the middle school readers like the Goosebumps and Animorphs series.
Onto the shelves went some of my favorites: the collections of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, a few baseball anthologies, a number of Nashville and Tennessee histories, and assorted Superman and Batman comic books. There was even room for Linda’s Chicken Soup for the Soul books.
It struck me how some stories are good for the first reading, but there’s no interest in rereading it. Once you know what happens, you move on to the next book.
Other stories, however, really touch our hearts on many different levels. Those are the books I want on my shelves, stories to read again and again.
As I was boxing up the children’s books, one of them caught my eye—The Velveteen Rabbit. The book was recently adapted into a film directed by Michael Landon, JR. He uses a family-friendly combination of live action and animation to gently expand the story beyond the scope of Margery Williams’ classic tale. Since I had never read the book all the way through, I stopped working and read for a while.
Once upon a time on Christmas morning, a little boy woke to find a velveteen rabbit in his stocking. The rabbit was soft and cuddly, and soon the boy played with him every day. This made the rabbit very happy, for he liked to play with the boy. During one play session outdoors, the velveteen rabbit saw real rabbits and marveled at how they twitched their noses and bounded away on their hind legs.
One day, the boy became very ill with scarlet fever and clung to the rabbit for comfort. After the boy got well, the doctor told Nana to discard all of the boy’s bed linens and cloth toys. The house had to be cleaned to prevent the fever from returning. The velveteen rabbit was put into a sack with the rest of the items for the incinerator.
But the rabbit was special, for the little boy had loved the velveteen rabbit with all his heart. It was this love that turned the velveteen rabbit into a real bunny. He hopped into the forest on his new hind legs and began a new life with his real rabbit friends.
Now when I was boxing up the children’s books, some of them were attached to pleasant memories of our children—a hearty laugh, a sleepy nod, a contented smile.
This book, however, was attached to a personal memory. Decades ago, I had a cuddly soft doggie with floppy cloth ears and black button eyes. After a couple of my childhood years, the fur became worn, an eye was lost, and all the leg stuffing was squeezed down into four large paws.
My mother knew when it was time for her young son to part with the toy. In her own kind and loving way, she suggested that I give the dog to my new baby sister.
I slowly agreed and handed the dog to my Mom so that Maria could look at him in the playpen. “You’re a good big brother,” said Mom.
John Eldredge in his book Epic—The Story God is Telling and the Role that is Yours to Play (which Maria gave to me) says that “story is the language of the heart.” Our life is a story, with a large cast of characters and lots of plot turns and twists.
In the midst of our own story, we sometimes feel like we’ve walked into a movie 40 minutes late. Confused and unsure, many lose heart.
Before that happens, Eldredge says, we need to know more about the larger story that we are in. We need to know the director and the real part that we play in this larger story.
Here in this Easter Season, we have listened to the Gospels tell The Greatest Story Ever Told. It’s an amazing story that took place nearly 2000 years ago, but still finds ways to resonate anew in our lives.
For God so loved the world, he gave us his only begotten son, who died for our sins. That is love. That is a love we should share.
I think there’s just enough room on my bookshelf for one more book—the family Bible. There are lots of great stories in that book.
First published in the April 17, 2009 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2009 Christopher Fenoglio