Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Farewell To Old Friends

This past Friday at 12:01 a.m. marked the release of the 8th and final Harry Potter film. For a lot of the world, this didn't signify anything other than the last movie in a series that they felt was split to make sure they made as much cash as possible off of the franchise. For the rest of us, those devout Harry Potter fans, it meant so much more. I'm not sure what everyone's experience has been, but for me Harry Potter has been a life changing series.

I showed up late to the party with the books. The first one was released back in 1997, at the end of my Freshman year in high school, and I paid no attention. Even when I was working in the school library my Senior year and the librarian was posting articles from Time magazine about the phenomenon that was Harry Potter, I didn't really pay much attention. It wasn't until Jason was working for a store run by PBS and preparing for the release of the 4th book that I thought "Wow, this might be a big deal". He bought the books, brought them home and tore through them in just a couple of weeks and said "You have to read these. You have to". So I did, and that in itself was a game changer, because Jason and I had never shared the same taste in books before, but suddenly we had this commonality to work from and this addictive series to discuss and theorize over at length. Harry Potter brought us closer together. That's what this series does though, it brings people together. I can't tell you the number of people I've connected to through a common love of these books. When I worked for Waldenbooks, I bonded with staff and customers time and time again over how these books are not just a kids book series, but a common ground on which people can build relationships.

I don't think I would have gone into teaching if it hadn't been for Harry Potter. I know that sounds strange, but it's true. I spent so much time in the bookstore watching kids get excited for the release of a book in an age where the X-Box and iPod reigned supreme and I thought "It's not that kids don't want to read, it's that no one has made it exciting for them", and then I found myself thinking that maybe I could be that person. I suddenly wanted to be the person who lit that spark of fascination for kids who may not really care about reading. I wanted to excite people about books, and teach them how to think about them and analyze them and truly understand them. Selling books wasn't enough. I needed to teach them. So I went into education. Harry Potter put me on the path to a career that I would not have otherwise thought about going into, and it took my floundering uncertain 24 year old self and gave her purpose for the first time since she left high school. When I had the opportunity to meet J.K. Rowling, I was given about 3 seconds to say something to her. I said "Your books made me decide I wanted to teach" and her advice was "Don't be Snape".

My story is really just one of many, because fans all over the world can point to ways that this book series has changed their lives. Hank Green of Vlogbrothers fame saw his career launched when he wrote a song about the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The people of Haiti received 5 chartered jets filled with disaster relief and medical supplies from the HP Alliance, a charity group formed to carry the theme of the Harry Potter novels out into the real world through charitable deeds. A group of fans, young and old, who banded together to bring more love and good into the world, as inspired by the message J.K. Rowling so diligently wove into her novels. Their motto is "The weapon we have is love". Pretty powerful stuff to come out of a series of fiction novels.

My point is, these books have touched countless people, and changed lives in ways that no one would have initially expected. And now, as we reach the end of the series in its film form, we as fans come to a startling realization that we have nothing more to look forward to. We have nothing left but the relationships we have built, and the undiscovered paths that our lives will take as they have been touched by J.K. Rowling and her endearing characters. We have grown up with these books, these films, these characters. We have laughed and cried with Harry, Ron and Hermione. Now we are left to laugh and cry on our own. There will be no new experiences for us in the Potter universe, but there will always be new experiences elsewhere, and we will have to take what we have learned from Harry Potter along with us, and strive to carry on with creating a better world as we were inspired to do the first time we read those newly minted pages. As Dumbledore has said, "Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open". That is the world we strive for, thanks to the lessons we have learned from a small boy wizard and his friends.

So long Harry, and thanks for the ride.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lest We Lose The Ability To Wonder

Friday marked NASA's final space shuttle launch, which I've been thinking about off and on ever since the media frenzy began a week or so ago. As much as I think it's sad that we are losing manned space flight, which has been a pretty large part of our scientific history for the past 50 years, and was once a huge rallying point for American morale, I find myself wondering if we're losing more than just the space shuttle. My worry is that we're losing the ability to wonder, and the ability to think "What if?" and then strive to answer that question.

When author Francois Rabelais died, his last words were "I go to seek the great perhaps". I feel like that's what our first voyage into space was, it was a deep need to go seek the great perhaps. Or, as my Star Trek geek husband would say, "to boldly go where no man has gone before". We did not go into space because it was easy, or because it was necessary. We went because we were spurred by that basic human need to reach for more than what is at our fingertips. We reached for the stars, and when they were too out of reach to come to us, we found a way to go to them. We went because we wondered what was out there, and we knew we would never be satisfied until we found that answer. Now, as we lose the ability as a nation to continue those voyages, I find myself saddened that we may be sacrificing our ability to wonder. I think about how there will be no elementary school children talking about how they want to grow up and go to space, because we won't be doing that anymore, and I feel infinitely saddened. I remember going to Kennedy Space Center with my family when I was 12, and my dad getting us up at the crack of dawn to drive out and watch a space shuttle launch, which didn't happen due to weather conditions, but I remember sitting there thinking about how exciting it must be to sit in that shuttle and blast through the atmosphere into a place that almost no one can say they've gone.

Space is one of the few things left in this world that we can explain, and yet remains a mystery. It inspires wonderment, and it inspires people to think beyond the world they know into the great perhaps, and it is quickly fading from our grasp. I don't want to lose that feeling, and that sense of pride at knowing that we have been able to accomplish putting people into space for so long. We were able to put people on the moon. If we weren't losing this amazing program, we could likely be putting people onto other distant planets, or traveling beyond our own solar system into the great unknown. So, what we lose is so much more than a tangible space program, we lose the ability to dream that something more is out there for us, and that we need only seek it and reach high enough to grasp it.

On Relationships

I've never been one of those people who talks a lot about how in luuuuurve I am, or about how Jason is the greatest "hubby" ever or anything like that. This is, primarily, because I feel like people who are always gushing about how in luuuurve they are or how they have the greatest spouse ever are either trying to prove to themselves that things really are that way, or they're trying to prove to others that they totally win at relationships. This might not necessarily be the case, but I generally feel that people who are actually in love and have good healthy relationships rarely ever have to talk about them. In general, I feel like if someone is happy in their relationship, it should be obvious and apparent without someone needing to tell people how incredibly happy they are.

I bring this up because I find myself reading a lot of Facebook statuses and blogs lately where people are talking about how AMAZING their relationships are, or how in luuuuurve they are, or how much they have struggled through to come out "stronger" on the other side and I find myself thinking "What makes you think you're different from any other couple on the planet?" I mean...think about it. Most "couple problems" are completely typical. Short of one of you having a horrible life threatening disease, or if you're dealing with serious infidelity and for some reason decide to remain together, there aren't a lot of problems that every other couple isn't also having. And I really hate the phrase "marriage is hard". No, ALL relationships are hard, but because marriage tends to be less disposable than other types of relationships, people think it's more difficult than any other relationship. Marriage does take work, just like any other relationship, but it doesn't have to be hard. If the person you married understands you, and cares about how you feel and what you want or need, then it's not nearly as hard as people think. I mean, I think back on all that Jason and I have "gone through", first living with my parents and sharing a room with my 2 sisters while he slept on the floor for a year, then living in our apartment with a roommate, then living in a cramped and cluttered house with his mom while we both worked full time and went to school full time, then moving into our own house with uncertain employment situations, going through various periods of one or both of us being unemployed, and I could say "Oh wow, we're so strong because we've been through so much without splitting up" but all I really think is "Well....that was life". It's not about going through stuff and coming out stronger for it, it's about just being strong in the first place and then the crappy stuff that happens doesn't matter. And, feeling like you have to go through things to make you stronger means that you can't be in a strong relationship without shitty things happening. If you can't be on the same page, or in the same place from the start, why be in the relationship at all? Why does anyone date/marry/befriend anyone who has to work really hard to be on the same page as they are? It makes no sense to me. Good relationships take work, but they feel easy. That doesn't mean that they don't have their bumps along the way, or are without conflict or argument, but the fixing process shouldn't feel like work. If it does, maybe it's the wrong connection to make.

So.....I guess what I think is that if I ever start talking excessively about how much I luuuuurve Jason, or how awesome he is, or how great and amazing and strong a relationship we have, that might be the time to start worrying the actual state of our relationship. For now, I think that being able to say "It just works" when people ask about the two of us. I don't need to give or receive mushy cards, or see Facebook statuses about how much Jason luuuurves me, or hear about how he can't live without me. We aren't that couple. I know he loves me, because he married me, and tells me at least once a day, and he puts up with all of my annoying BS. That means so much more than constant public affirmation. I find it so strange that other people feel the need for all the rest of that nonsense.