What is Old?
Updated: Jan 24, 2020
By Roger Desmarais:
For a long time, the Velveteen Rabbit lived in the nursery and no one thought much about him. He was naturally shy and being made of velveteen, some of the more cool, young, and expensive toys snubbed him and did not talk with him.
The young, expensive mechanical toys felt very superior and looked down upon everyone else who was older; they were full of modern ideas, pretended they had a lot of money, came from very prestigious backgrounds, and were very smart. Even the Model Boat, who had lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught the tone from them and never missed an opportunity to refer to his rigging in very scientific terms and pretended to know a lot about modern key and high-powered technical issues.
The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn’t know that other rabbits really existed—he thought they were all stuffed with old sawdust like himself—which was so out of fashion and not mentioned in polite modern social circles. Even the jointed wooden Lion put on airs and pretended to be connected with the government. Between them all, the poor Rabbit was made to feel very insignificant and out of place, was pushed aside, and shunned by the nursery society of "have’s."
The old Skin Horse was the only one who would talk to him. The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches, showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger and, after a while, lose their money and fine backgrounds and just fade away. He knew they were very superficial and fragile and would never turn into anything else. Nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those who are old, wise, and experienced such as the Skin Horse understand all about it.
“What is old?” asked the Rabbit one day. “Does it mean having good genes, solid bones, good eyesight, and keen hearing?”
“Old isn’t how you are made or what you have,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you, from the inside and outside. When someone loves you for a long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you get to become old.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “However, when you are old, you begin to understand living.”
“Does it happen all at once, like winning the lottery?” asked the Rabbit, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, are cranky, insensitive, have sharp critical edges, or have to be carefully treated. Generally, by the time you are old, your hair turns white, you don’t see or hear as well as you used to, and your joints hurt—you are just not what you used to be. But these things really don’t matter at all because once you are old, you can’t not be beautiful except to people who don’t understand.”
“I suppose you are Old?” said the Rabbit. And then, he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Old Skin Horse only smiled.
“I became old a long time ago because I loved and had been loved,” said the Skin Horse. “But once you are old, you can’t become young again. Old lasts for always. You continue to get old—and sometimes wiser. People can get old in the ‘old cranky way.’ However, you can work at ‘becoming older and wiser’—you can become more loving and compassionate, caring and joyful, sensitive and creative, open and quiet, a lover of solitude and deep relationships. It doesn’t just happen automatically once you reach a senior age. You have to work at it!”
The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called "Old" happened to him. He longed to become old, to know what it felt like; but the idea of losing his balance and eyesight, his hearing and beautiful velveteen hair, was rather sad. He wished that he could become old and experience the "Gifts of Aging" without these uncomfortable things happening to him.
Dr. Roger Desmarais has written poetry on his experiences as a consultant to executives and their executive teams as a way to more easily connect with the Emotional Intelligent part of the total leader. This has also opened the opportunity to write poetry to define the Spiritual Intelligence that is the foundation for Ethical and Responsible Leadership—which is a growing request. His recently published book of corporate poetry taps the three intelligences: Intellectual, Spiritual, and Emotional: “Disruptive Poetry: Upsetting the Perfect Corporate Status Quo”