Teddy bears, after they have finished their active lives and retired to yard sales, thrift stores and landfills, are thought by some to still have a certain kind of reality in a larger scheme of things.
Some observers also allege that these stuffed animals have meetings, along the lines of retirement groups and veterans’ organizations, in which they share past glories and personal losses with others who know what those experiences have cost them. I discovered that many of them remember their active lives as a time of service, when they helped their special human beings to feel comfortable in the world and to learn to trust their living playmates.
Perhaps you will doubt the truth of what I am about to say, but even though I am not myself a stuffed animal, neither still in service nor retired, I was able to sit in on one of these meetings. It was led by a stuffed bear who looked a lot like Winnie the Pooh, but when he turned down honey in his tea, I knew that it was another bear.
There were other look-alikes present at this meeting. A rabbit with a velveteen coat, when hailed by someone, “Hey, Velveteen Rabbit”, slowly, I thought rather sadly, shook his head.
Calling the meeting to order, the Pooh-look-alike said something I couldn’t understand, and it crossed my mind that having stuffing for brains might be an issue; but then the reminiscences that followed stunned me with their emotional depth and honesty. It was soon clear that not a day passed when they didn’t remember their young humans with love, and that they still drew on those experiences to define the purpose of their own presence on Earth. Something then shifted in me and I realized that I too only know myself in the eyes of others.
I was especially touched by a stuffed wolf who said that he had never been taken out of the box and had remained surrounded by packing tissue until the day he was dumped into a large blue bin and transported to the land fill. One of the men who worked there picked him up and seemed to be considering taking him home, perhaps for a child of his own, but a smear of spaghetti sauce picked up in transit caused him to be flung into a pit where he was eventually buried under dirt and other truckloads of trash.
Listening to these memories, I remembered how one of my sons, who used to hug his bear, and later his wolf–carrying them everywhere–would also hug me. And then I thought of our other son, gone early from this life, and I can’t remember him ever carrying a stuffed animal around with him, or reaching out to hug me. Still, his gaze was always steady, discerning, and interested in what was going on around him.
Do stuffed animals teach children to feel comfortable with other people? Or are some of us born with an urge to reach out and embrace other beings, so that whether it’s a stuffed bear or a rabbit, they are exercising a life skill already present in them?
And I wonder if now, sitting in silence at the edge of my world, I am trying to prepare for the day when, like a discarded, stuffed wolf, I will reach the end of my string of prayer beads; and then have to watch as my last chance for a final embrace slips away?