On a rare morning of quiet, I lit a fire, poured hot coffee into a Star Wars mug, and settled into a squashy armchair to read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In moments, I was moving across the dark grounds of a vast castle school, wand at the ready for an attack. I was lost in another world.
I’m a long time Potthead; I first picked up a Harry Potter book 16 years ago – finals week during my freshman year of college. It was a mistake to start reading them at that moment; as I tend to lean toward a world of fantasy anyway, the books were an unreasonable escape from the very real thing I was asked to do – exams and papers. I managed, in spite of an immediate addiction to stunning spells and butterbeer. Harry Potter was my distraction, my release, my stress, and my joy all at once.
In my burgeoning adult life, I’ve returned to Harry Potter when I need to suspend reality. When work becomes overbearing and my anxiety even seeps into my dreams, I find the fiction of Harry Potter actually draws me back to something closer to my real self. I become a person captivated by the gift of imagination and rooted in a loving hope that good will triumph.
Pages melted away as the sun rose and washed out the brightness of the flickering fire. Reality check – I needed more coffee. I dug myself out of the chair and made my way to the pot.
When I returned, fresh steam was rising out of R2D2’s chrome dome. As my mind danced with what form my Patronus might take – surely a humpback whale – I noticed an entirely different kind of book sitting on the coffee table before me: Obama: An Intimate Portrait.
Published a day before the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s election, the book reveals the world of the 44th presidency through the lens of Pete Souza, the official White House photographer during the Obama Administration. Harry could wait. Barry had my attention.
I started at the beginning, remembering events of those eight years. As I meandered through pages, I saw Obama slumped over a desk at Newtown High School and remembered the deep sadness of Sandy Hook. No spell would bring the victims back to life.
I saw a cramped room filled with decorated military leaders and government officials watching a screen unseen, and I remembered the strange blend of relief and lament when Osama bin Laden was found and killed. The soldiers were carried into their mission by boats and helicopters, not broomsticks and Floo Powder.
I saw a man singing and dancing with his enchanting wife in his arms, and I wondered how anyone could manage to smile through the pressure of the presidency – almost magic to try, or perhaps an illusion.
There were trying moments for me during the Obama administration, and all people make mistakes. But still, I was captivated by the bold imagination of it all – trying to care for sick people, trying to help people find good jobs, trying to keep conversations about rights and justice at the forefront of American dialogue. I felt called to do more in rooting deeper hope and goodness in the world.
But first, more coffee.
On a rare morning of quiet, I over-caffeinated and chuckled at the books before me. They couldn’t be more different. One whisked me away to a wizarding reverie, and the other planted me firmly in reality. One boasts werewolves, pixies, and hippogriffs, and the other is made of actual people who suffered and struggled, who sent people to die and who tried to keep me safe. One offered the timeless tale of good versus evil, and the other revealed that the line between them isn’t always clear.
Both, however, reminded me that it is not reasonable to fear a name or the thing itself – dark wizards or presidents or anyone else. Both reminded me of the power of imagination, and the human capacity to dream big. Both called me to courageous action and an indomitable spirit of hope.
And, both gave me reason to pause in the chaos of life and enjoy a well-earned moment of reflection before my day began.
But now, the day begins…
Image by the author.