I recently read the first two Harry Potter books to my eight-year-old twins. They were astounded by them. My children’s entire lives shifted forever when Harry saw Quirrell standing in front of the mirror at the end of the first book. I knew it would be surprising to them. The brilliance of the Harry Potter stories is their unpredictable nature. And since my children are still processing things as black and white, they just received a mind-blowing lesson in “things are not always as they seem”.
But I have a truly shameful revelation to make. I had never read these books either. I know. I may have been the last person on the face of the Earth who had not read them. I am not sure why. I have always loved fantasy stories. I filled my childhood with unicorns, wizards and fairies just to keep distracted from my reality. But I was already an adult when the Harry Potter series first came out. And I was living in a world of obligation. I didn’t make time for my own entertainment. And my dissociated brain had trouble focusing on books, so I usually didn’t read unless required by school or work. Of course, I went to the theater for the first couple of movies like the rest of the world. But as is usually the case, the books are in another league.
So my children and I experienced the Harry Potter books for the first time together. I remembered enough to know the big plot twists, but that was about it. This will not come as a shock, but I loved the strong female characters. I loved the unyielding power of maternal love. And I loved how the hero is not some big, brutish, egotistical, know-it-all. But something surprised me. I loved Snape. He had me at “Mr. Potter … our new celebrity.”
While I already knew Severus Snape was not the bad guy, I had no idea just how complex he would become. I could not get enough of his triumphs. When he confronted Professor Lockhart, I was cheering on my couch. When he protected the kids from the werewolf, I watched in shock. And I could not wait to read more about his story. I watched the rest of the movies because I have always loved immediate gratification. And now, I am obsessed with reading the rest of the books.
I am self-aware enough to know that when I feel a connected to another person (or a character), I see myself in them. But most of my friends would not see a connection between Severus Snape and me. I have a different way of approaching life. I have a relatively friendly demeanor with those around me, maybe because the only place you can be that much of a jerk is a wizardry school, maybe because I care too much what others think of me. But on the inside, we have something, a very big thing, in common:
We both reached that point of ultimate pain. We both had to make a decision to shut down the feelings, to stop the emotions because enough was enough. We both chose to lock up our hearts and throw away the key. We both chose to never go through that type of loss again. We both gave up, but kept going, knowing that life would never be as fulfilling as for others because we just could not be available, not completely available, to the joys of life. There was too much pain to feel first, pain that might kill us.
My story of childhood abuse and unrequited love is eerily mirrored in the story of Severus Snape. And it has made me look hard at how I am approaching this life. While Snape was an amazingly courageous person, he was not. He was brave in his actions. He even cared deeply for Harry by the end. But he never pulled out of the painful tailspin that is hopelessness. He never fully grasped what his life could be. And I don’t want to be that way.
So if I want to take my courage to another level, I have to allow my heart to be broken open. I have to allow myself to fully love again, not the love that wants something in return, not the love that only looks like love on the surface, but real love. I don’t know exactly what that means. It is an intuitive feeling that there is a love I can’t remember. But I know there must be. If there wasn’t, I would not still be here working, searching, recovering. There would be no point in this work. Self-awareness would not bring anything new. Living life would just be one day after another.
And we are not here for that. We aren’t here to give up. We aren’t here for anyone else. And we aren’t here for some prize on the other side. We are here to show our courage now. We are here to realize that love can happen more than once and that pain won’t kill us. We are here to love, to live, to be free.
And if we live with the pain locked away inside us, we cannot be free.