It is believed that Plato and his Greek peers at times referred to God as “the really real.”
A few days ago Sophie brought back a picture book from the school library. It was called The Real, True Dulcie Campbell. On the cover a young girl in a red, gingham dress stood atop two large barrels of hay. She clutched a thick, story book to her chest with one hand and a gardening pitchfork in the other.
The book opens: “One Saturday afternoon, when Dulcie Campbell was doing her chores, it occurred to her that a terrible mistake had been made on the day she was born…” Our main character finds herself amidst pig slop and chicken feathers, shoveling straw into a dilapidated chicken coop. She belongs to a mother who wears “worn-out old bunny slippers” and a father who sports “scratchy whiskers” on his face and cow poop on his boots. She’s got a brother who “steals her underpants” and a dog “who sniffs people in embarrassing places.”
The chicken coop and the cow poop and the annoying brother are just a little too much for Dulcie. So she reads. She reads to escape. She reads about princesses in silken gowns and royal thrones. She figures she must have been switched at birth, right? The real, true Dulcie Campbell doesn’t belong in this mess! So one day she declares to her family, one fist poised high to the sky in a gesture of triumph– “I must go now to live the life I was born for!”
I’m Dulcie. Searching for the real me. Convinced she’s to be found in some castle– perhaps with some prestigious post-graduate degree and a published novel under her belt. In a home with coordinated vintage decor instead of honey-oak trim and 90s striped wall-paper. I imagine kids who bathe nightly and go to bed after one tuck-in. I’m Dulcie- and I’m not getting my story from books, I’m getting my story from news feeds and advertisements and constant comparisons.
I’m Dulcie when I’m convinced I must go elsewhere to find my life. When I search for myself anywhere but here.
But here’s the thing. Dulcie marches off in her gingham dress and slouched knee socks clutching her book full of fantasies. She finds herself in a barn-turned-castle and reads and reads. And she becomes that princess. And she discovers princesses are put through some crazy shit. Sometimes they are forced by wicked queens to wear rags and sleep in ashes. One was poisoned. Another was locked in a tower. And as Dulcie lives her fantasy, the barn-turned-castle begins to fill with terrible trolls and ogres– witches and wicked fairies.
But then, an epiphany.
Dulcie stares at all that evil, all that wickedness and says “Hey, wait a minute!” A pause. “If I’m not a princess, and I truly am not, then you guys aren’t real either.” And the barn is a barn again. Sure- it’s not a palace. It’s milk pails and rolls of baling wire– it’s syrup stains and dirty socks, daily lesson plans and stacks of crudely written, to-be-graded papers. It’s reality. Nothing more. Nothing less.
When I see my world for what it is– not for what I fear or hope it could be– it is true, I’m not a princess. But the reality is that I’m here. And when I see myself for what I am, I am able to see the monsters for what they are. And they are milk pails. And dirty socks. And crudely written papers. Sometimes the monster is even narcissism or racism or fanaticism. Or death. But in the face of the real me, those villains are less villainous. They are real– yes. But being grounded in the realness of me has put them in their proper place.
And now– to conclude our story- something beautiful happens.
Dulcie is in the castle-turned-back-to-barn. Far away, a voice was calling. ‘Dul-cee! Dulcie Campbell!’ And faster than the West Wind, Dulcie ran out out to the barnyard. She flew toward the sound of her real, true name.
I want to run to the sound of my real, true name. I want to leave behind the fantasy of comparison, of earning self-worth, of proving myself to an audience who doesn’t matter. I want to fly toward my real self– faster than the west wind. I want to return to reality, return to myself. Because The Really Real is calling my name.
Can you hear it? Can you hear your name? Let’s run.
Quotations from The Real, True Dulcie Campbell by Cynthia DeFelice