The Wilderness

The Andrea that boarded a plane to Memphis this past Christmas was so depleted of life. A couple of weeks prior, I had envisioned myself dancing and turning cartwheels all of the way home from school on the last day of exams, but I had just enough energy to drag myself to my bed and prepare for the journey home the next day. On the plane, all I could think about was the seventh Harry Potter book. As soon as I got home, I was headed to the library to check it out and reread. There was a word for me in that book; I just knew it.


The seventh book had always been special to me, definitely in my top three of the series. The third book is pure magic because the first time I read it and got down to the last hundred pages, all I could think was, “What else could happen in this short period of time?” And boom! This time-turner appeared. Game changer. The sixth is also super important due to the prominent role that the Pensieve played. What I would not give to own one of those. But the seventh? If for no other reason, the book is special to me because I went through a lot to read it when it was released.


My mom is big into the scripture that says guard your heart and mind from evil. Under no circumstance was anything remotely related to witchcraft allowed in our house. Matilda got thrown in the trash, so it shouldn’t have surprised me when I was forced to return a beautiful hardcover boxset of the first four books from my first mentor, but I was still devastated. I resolved to read each and every one of those books.


I got my chance in high school when a neighbor, at the bequest of our guidance counselor, started driving me to school. We got there forty-five minutes early because he liked to sit in his car and watch his crush eat her breakfast in her car before school. I would go to the library and read until my best friend came to keep me company. I read the first five books that way. The sixth one had been released, but the school was a little bit behind the times.


My best friend let me borrow her copy and I read it during the school day. I knew better than to bring it home. Mama had a sixth sense that was particularly sensitive to us bringing contraband in the house. When my baby sister got turned on to Harry Potter, she made the mistake of trying to bring it across the threshold. Soon as she came in the door, my mother beckoned her over to the couch and started reading to her from the Bible about guarding her heart. When the sermon was over, Danielle raced back to her bedroom where I was. “What should I do? I want to read this book, but I don’t want to go to hell!” I wasn’t even trying to solve that dilemma for her; everybody gotta work out their salvation for themselves. That’s between you and your God.


The seventh book was released the summer after my first year of college and in the days leading up to the release, I was in a state of panic. How was I going to read that book? My mom had moved into a tiny 2-bedroom apartment and four out of the five of us kids were living there that summer. No way would I be able to sneak that book in. I couldn’t count on getting a library copy because that would require that I race to the library and what plausible excuse could I give Mama for needing to be there so early? Oh no, I wouldn’t be able to read it until long after my friends had, which meant that I wouldn’t be able to hang out with them because that would be all they would want to discuss (this sentence alone tells you all you need to know about my high school social life).


Every time I went to the bookstore in the days leading up, I would stare at the posters and fantasize about being the type of person who could reserve a copy in advance. The book was released on a Saturday and I spent that weekend curled up on the couch, lamenting my fate. On Monday, I went to the main library to do some research for a project I had to complete for Model UN. It was nine am and I hadn’t eaten breakfast because I didn’t plan on being there long.


The main library in Memphis has a special room just for new releases. The room has its own metal detectors, so any materials from that room have to be checked out before you leave. I went in just to browse. I nodded resignedly to where the new Harry Potter books had been. But, while I was standing there looking at the new celebrity memoirs, a librarian came in pushing a cart of the seventh book. My eyes zeroed in on the cart as if he had just wheeled in a glistening Honeybaked ham. I drifted towards the cart as if I was expecting the books to disappear at any second. When I had my hand on one and no one yelled at me, I picked it up and danced with glee.


I started reading, but then I had to go the bathroom, so I left it at the front desk with the librarian. When I returned to collect it, she held it out to me, but then pulled her hand back.


“Are you going to check it out? You need to check it out because there is a demand for them.” (WHAT? Since when is it a crime to read a book IN the library?)


“I’m going to check it out; I’m just waiting on my mom to come with my library card.”


She reluctantly held the book out to me and I dashed off to a corner before she changed her mind. There are not comfortable reading chairs in the new release section; just a couple of sitting stools. No matter. I sat curled up in the corner and read that book from cover to cover, the hunger pains and the menstrual cramps be damned. At five pm, I strutted out of the library with victory pulsing through my veins. I rushed to call my friend and we made plans to dissect it the next day.


When my best friend and I discussed it, she expressed displeasure at the pacing of the book. “So much time was spent on them just wandering in the woods!” What, for her, had been a drawback to the series ending, was what called me to it this past Christmas. In books prior, all of the adventures that Harry and his friends had taken were contained by the school year. Similarly, my life had followed a certain trajectory – high school, college, year-long fellowship, and then law school. Now, I was just out here in the world and not sure what the next step was. I had realized that the path I had been on was not where I needed to be, but I didn’t seem to be much closer to figuring out where I should be. I longed to immerse myself in Harry’s wilderness experience and see if he could teach me something about mine.


And it did. The overarching themes of faith, forgiveness, and hope leapt off the page at me. The first time I read the book, I was so annoyed with Harry and his frequent bouts of doubt about Dumbledore. I remember thinking, “For the love of God, Harry, trust him!” Harry Potter is my favorite Christian allegory that never was. In the weeks leading up to the release of the seventh book, Barnes & Noble was giving out stickers if you pre-ordered a book. You could choose between two: Snape: Friend or Snape: Foe. Every time I saw those stickers, I rolled my eyes. Clearly, he’s not a foe. One of the basic premises of the entire series is that Dumbledore is the greatest wizard that ever lived. If that is true, then he couldn’t have been decieved by a wizard the likes of Snape, regardless of how the 6th book ended.


Back then I couldn’t understand why Harry could allow himself to be so easily swayed to think the worst of Dumbledore. My inability to fathom his doubts says a lot about my own faith walk at that period of time. I was a baby Christian, so I had yet to experience the hard days, the lonely journeys. This time, I could feel his frustration racing through my veins. At one point, Hermione chastised him for doubting (reminding me of my pious friends who have religious jargon on the tips of their tongues at all times) and he exploded. He said something to the effect of, “Why does everyone keep acting like it’s a simple choice. Just choose to believe. I want the truth and why is everyone so determined that I shouldn’t have it?” Yes, God, Harry I feel your pain. Nothing angers me more when I searching for answers and people are determined to placate me with flawed logic wrapped in sweet-sounding words.


It got to the point where Harry realized that there were be parts of this journey where no one could accompany him. Hermione and Ron came with him on the quest and he shared with them everything that he knew, but still, there were these distances that all the explanations in the world could not fill. There was a point when he has a revelation about the hallows and he turns around to see the two of them standing there, epiphany lost on them. He was so confused and wondered how it could be that they didn’t realize how far they had just journeyed.


But it wasn’t their journey; it was his. And despite their willingness to support him, they could not experience everything with him. There were some steps he had to take by himself. At the time, I was going through a similar experience in Guatemala. I had friends and family both there and back in the States who loved and supported me and yet, I felt really alone many a day. My loneliness used to stir up a rage so intense within me. Whose fault was this? My default is to assume that if I feel pain, there must be a villain, but over the course of this past year, I learned that there are just some journeys that I must take alone and it’s not because people don’t love me. No one can be all things to anyone and when I accepted this, I was able to forgive people for only being able to give a little love and forgive myself for doing the same. Now I can understand why Harry was quick to accept Ron when he returned and did not allow him to wallow in guilt. While reflecting on Dumbledore’s decision to give him the Deluminator, Ron said, “He knew that I would abandon you.” And Harry replied, “No, he knew you would have always wanted to come back.”


Later in the book, Harry is reflecting on the items that Dumbledore left for Ron and Hermione in his will. It had become clear why he willed those things to them. What he bestowed upon them showed a strong understanding of their personalities. Harry was still trying to see what Dumbledore saw in him. He yells at the sky one night,


“What did you know about me, Dumbledore? Am I meant to know, but not to seek? Did you know how hard I’d find that? Is that why you made it this difficult? So I’d have time to work that out?”


My heart bled for him and for me. So many days in my little apartment, I had cried out in a similar way. Why am I here? Why am I here? Some days I would think I had figured it out and I’d be like, “Oh cool, God. Lesson learned. I got it. Can I go now?” I was like Theo in the episode of where Denise made him that ugly shirt and he’s in the kitchen pleading with his dad to let him get another shirt. Cliff was like, “Well, I think you’ve learned your less–” and Theo blurts out, “Oh yes, Dad, I’ve learned it! Whatever it is, I’ve learned it!”


There are so many people I admire in this world and one characteristic that they all share is a complicated history. For all of them, their path to their destinies wasn’t linear; it was full of crooks and turns. The problem is, so much time has passed since their struggle days. When they speak of the past, they glide over the struggle and focus on the victory because that is their current truth and it’s hard to remember past truths. I love the seventh book because it really dwells in the struggle. The ending is beautiful, but only in conjunction with the meat of the book. Harry, Hermione, and Ron had many victories, but more often than not, they failed and fell backwards into situations that propelled them forward. I see my life unfolding in similar ways.


Re-reading the book gave me one of the boosts I needed to go back and finish strong. Now I’m back in the States and my life is still drifting along on random channels. I’m employed, but the housing thing is still a struggle and a whole host of other issues are rattling around in my brain, but I’m really trying to slow down and focus on the day –to- day and above all, write about all of it, so when my struggles days have passed, I can remember and be able to share and possibly help someone else in their journey.


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