A Utah father’s tribute to his ‘velvet daughter’

Fifty years ago I stumbled across a book that is now a hundred years old and which I expect my daughter and I will continue to love together as long as fate and the future allow.

As a kid, I liked wild outdoor play, but I loved sitting indoors in a chair surrounded by our family’s encyclopedia collection. Words were close and trusted friends. I spoke their language from an early age.

So one day I was surprised to be confronted with a word I didn’t know: Velveteen. I had traded my usual encyclopedias for a collection of children’s fairy tales. My curiosity about the unfamiliar and unusual word drew me deeper into the story in which it was mentioned.

It was adorable, a short tale about a toy-stuffed rabbit wondering what it meant to be real. British novelist Margery Williams published The Velveteen Rabbit (or How Toys Become Real) in 1922, a century ago that year. Although I encountered the story many years after publication, I possessed the same genuine curiosity as its floppy-eared protagonist.

The Velveteen Rabbit premiered in 1922.

The plot intrigued me. The plush bunny, a Christmas present for a little boy, is loved for a time but soon discarded in favor of newer toys. Over the years, the sawdust-filled rabbit is snubbed by more expensive toys and is either loved or ignored, depending on the boy’s fleeting whims and the attractive qualities of other toys.

Confused by this plight and after encountering live rabbits frolicking outside, the velvet bunny ponders what is real. When the boy falls ill with scarlet fever, the cozy old toys come back into fashion. However, after the boy recovers, the germ-filled rabbit is sent to the garbage heap and finally real as a fiery end nears.

During the ordeal and journey, the velvet rabbit gains the wisdom of a friendly toy companion – an old skin horse. Finally, the skin horse explains to the scruffy rabbit, “By the time you’re real, most of your hair will be worn out and your eyes will fall out and you’ll become loose-jointed and very shabby. But those things don’t matter at all because once you’re real you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t get it.”

Later, as a father, I remembered this beautiful little book and read it to my own three children. They all liked it, but one – my middle daughter Megan – loved it.

She even had her own version of the toy, a plush pink stuffed animal that she dubbed “Care Bear.” I spent many hectic moments looking for Care Bears just before bed because I knew little Megan wouldn’t think of sleeping without him.

Ironically, like the Velveteen Rabbit, Megan has had her own difficult ordeal and journey.

Dancer gets a diagnosis

(Photo used with permission of George Karahalios, GP Studios. George Karahalios, GP Studios.) Megan O’Brien from her dancing days as a child.

From an early age, Megan has enjoyed tremendous flexibility and a passion for dance. She has pursued this passion with energy and determination, finding notable achievements and even recognition. She received a scholarship to one of the top collegiate dance programs in the country at the University of Utah.

However, she has also suffered from a series of severe health setbacks since her early teens. She had sharp and mysterious stabbing pains in her back, all sorts of digestive problems, debilitating headaches, overwhelming fatigue, and fainting spells. Though she continued to dance and graduate from college on time, she had little energy for much else.

Megan’s disability has sparked some surprising and hurtful animosity. So-called friends have suggested she faked it for attention. (Imagine the self-control it takes for a loving father not to hurl such thoughtless fools into the depths of hell.)

Because Megan looks good on the outside even when she feels very ill, many ERs and general practitioners are confused or even skeptical about her condition. Some suggested she just needed antidepressants or psychotherapy.

Her mother Vicki knew better. Despite such discouraging medical advice, and with a lot of independent research, support group consultations, brave persistence, and even prayer, Vicki and Megan eventually found some doctors and therapists who cared enough to seek better, more accurate answers.

It turns out that Megan has a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and various other complications of autonomic nerve disorders. According to the Mayo Clinic website, “EDS is a group of inherited disorders that affect your connective tissues — primarily your skin, joints, and blood vessel walls.”

Since the condition is genetic, Vicki’s persistent efforts to get Megan a correct diagnosis also revealed that Vicki lives with the same condition.

(Photo courtesy of Michael Patrick O’Brien) Vicki O’Brien and daughter Megan O’Brien take a spin at Disneyland.

With some clarity on what’s wrong, we were able to attempt to fix it. Megan has had a series of surgeries and therapeutic procedures to relieve her symptoms, with mixed success. Her lifelong endeavor will address EDS and related disorders.

She does it with courage and grace. She dances and choreographs with Repertory Dance Theater, a professional arts company in Salt Lake City. She often drags herself out of bed and vomits a rehearsed kick, lift, or twist at once for the privilege of making art. On a daily basis, she tolerates nausea hovering above five on the 10 scale. Other dancers take breaks to rest; Megan takes time off for IV fluids.

While Vicki has helped Megan understand and deal with the underlying physical health issue, my own role has been to try to help with spirit and morale. As a result, Megan and I often talk about life and what it could mean.

It is philosophical and introspective, perhaps the product of a Judge Memorial Catholic High School education. Once she surprised me by reporting that she had received “the gift of suffering.”

How suffering can be a gift

(Courtesy of Michael Patrick O’Brien) Megan O’Brien and her father, Michael Patrick O’Brien, eat out in Paris.

I never viewed her suffering as a gift, but instead fumed and howled to the moon that a talented young woman should be so unfairly burdened on the morning of her life. Although Megan is fed up with being sick so often in her 20s, she also manages to see her condition in a much better light than I do.

“Dad, I think my suffering is a gift,” she explained one day, “because not only does it help me appreciate the moments when I’m not sick, but it also allows me to truly understand the struggles of others.” and to feel compassion for it.”

Empathy. If you look up the word in the dictionary, you’ll find Megan’s picture there… maybe twice. Honestly, I was overwhelmed when she described as a gift what I have often considered to be a cruel and hateful curse that could prove the non-existence of a benevolent God.

In a similar conversation, she told me how she often recalls a book we read together when she was a little girl. Yes, it’s about a velvet rabbit.

Megan loves Skin Horse’s deep insight that real isn’t how you’re made, it’s something that happens over time, and not always “for people who break easily or have sharp edges or who need to be kept with care.” “. Instead, one becomes real by being both liked and discarded…worn down over time by love but also by a gauntlet of slingshots and arrows.

One becomes real by using courage, perseverance and resilience to find a little meadow to hop around in, a simple garden spot in the boundless and rugged expanse of the universe.

One of my friends from Trappist monks in Utah, Brother Nick Prinster, a hardy rancher, also understood the suffering and its importance. He once wrote: “We are all broken. We live by mending, and the glue with which we are mended is the grace of God, and what is the grace of God but love?”

I now understand why my daughter Megan loved this book – instinctively and immediately – when we read it together. It was a mysterious cosmic moment when two of the same things somehow found each other and danced to the music of harmonious synchronicity.

When I first read Margery Williams’ centuries-old classic story as a young boy, I picked up the dictionary. I learned that the word “Velveteen” means a type of fabric meant to imitate velvet. However, it took many years of being a father with a suffering child to really understand this definition.

If living a “normal” life is velvet, then my daughter is velvet, but she is not a mere impersonation of anything or anyone.

No, my daughter Megan is undeniably and remarkable and miraculously genuine.

Michael Patrick O’Brien (https://michaelpobrien.com) is a Salt Lake City-based writer and attorney who frequently represents The Salt Lake Tribune on legal matters. His book “Klostermorning: My unusual childhood among the saints and monks‘, about growing up with the monks in an old Trappist monastery in Huntsville, was published by Paraclete Press in August 2021.

https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2022/06/19/utah-fathers-tribute-his/ A Utah father’s tribute to his ‘velvet daughter’

Joel McCord

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