It Takes a Village to Raise a Wizard
The condiments and salad dressing aisle of any major grocery store in the United States can be a pretty stressful place. Would wasabi mayonnaise be the correct compliment for roast beef, or might the horseradish honey mustard give it just the right kick? The eternal quandaries of the playground of consumerism. Each time I return to the States, I am so overwhelmed by the options afforded me that I become paralyzed by choice, and often return home from a shopping excursion empty-handed.
This time around, in order to avoid my inevitable failure, I made my first purchase a buffer from all others and from the outside world in general—I bought the last Harry Potter book. For this reason, my first three weeks back home have been all but devoted to the final escapades of imaginary wizards in a children’s book. While I did make time to see my family, play with my niece, and run the requisite errands, I would quickly scurry back to the warm and protective shield of a make-believe world. What I saw there was as frightening and familiar as the bustling and confusing world I was trying to escape.
Harry Potter is a deeply traumatized child. As the narratives in each story grow increasingly complex, so does the suffering of one young boy, a child who must suffer in order to save the rest of the world. It would not have been surprising if Harry had used his angst as a reason to hurt others – if he had turned his pain outward, projecting it at the world that has damaged him. Yet what stopped Harry from turning to the dark side, from devoting his life to crime and black magic? So many children in our muggle world are similarly traumatized; so many children suffer through situations that adults should never be forced to face. Some of them turn to gangs, some get pregnant, some get addicted, and some—a few—fight and rage against their circumstances and make it through. Why?
Harry has no parents, lives under the constant fear of death, possesses the rather sinister ability to talk to snakes, suffers from being the topic of slanderous gossip, and is used as a pawn in adult games and power plays. But he has one thing going for him—community. He is surrounded by people who love and nurture him. They might not be perfect and a lot of them are weird. Some are criminals and misfits; some shine too brightly and dance to a different drummer. But they love him and protect him and offer to give up their lives for him. They are his family.
I look around and see so many children whose lives will probably not work out well because of circumstances beyond their control. I wonder what we could do to alter their trajectories if we weren’t too busy being distracted by the small details of our own lives. I wonder if we would have more time for the individuals around us who need our help if we spent less time in the overstocked aisles and overflowing shelves of shopping malls and grocery stores. I wonder what would change if we decided to prioritize relationships over things. Our lives are filled with distractions, both voluntary and compulsory, that prevent us from creating communities that might just be the saving grace for other people and even for ourselves. In the world of Harry Potter, magic coexists within the ordinary human world; the muggles, however, are blind to the magic that surrounds them. If there’s one thing to learn from Harry Potter, it’s that we have the power to alter circumstances through our own caring if we open our eyes and our hearts to those in need. That’s our muggle brand of magic.