A Birthday Wish

I didn’t ask my family members for birthday gifts this year. Mostly because such an expectation felt childish, but mainly because I wanted instead something valuable beyond price–a sample of their thoughts and ideas, frozen forever in time in a literary format. In other words, I asked them to write a paper. I have been working on an essay titled, “Life Lessons I learned from Harry Potter,” and I asked each of my siblings to do the same. I have at present only received four out of ten, but I am optimistic that the remainder will soon arrive. To be completely fair, my own essay is far from complete, but I wanted to share some excerpts from the lists I’ve already received:

(Courtesy of my brother Nathan)
Even bad guys recognize the importance of honoring The Sabbath.
Uncle Vernon, one of the many villains of the Harry Potter series, very early one in the first book declares his respect for Sunday.

“‘No post on Sundays’ he reminded them happily as he spread marmalade on his newspapers, ‘no damn letters today!’”

Almost get killed, and you’ll be famous. “’He’s not even that good, it’s just because he’s famous… Famous for having a stupid scar on his forehead…’”

“Ron had become an instant celebrity. For the first time in his life, people were paying more attention to him than to Harry, and it was clear he was rather enjoying the experience… ‘He looked at me, and I looked at him, and then I yelled, and he scarpered.’”

(Courtesy of Michael)
“People find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right.”

“I’d say that it’s one short step from ‘Wizards first’ to ‘Purebloods first,’ and then to ‘Death Eaters.’ We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
Over the years since I first read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone I have periodically given serious thought to the question:
What would I see if I looked into the mirror or Erised?

Related bonus quotation: “One can never have enough socks.”

(Courtesy of Stephen)
Harry Potter is a story about sacrifice. See Dumbledore, Snape, Lily and James, Sirius Black Harry himself and a dozen others as examples. Hardly anything pricks the heart more than deliberate sacrifice, so Harry Potter ends up pricking the heart a lot.

Harry Potter is a story of good versus evil, with extremes and halfway people. One of the delights of reading Harry Potter is to find characters like Snape, who does horrible things while still trying to nobly save Harry’s life, or Slughorn, who loved Lilly Potter but is too cowardly to do much about it, or Dumbledore, who loves Harry but manipulates him in selfish and hurtful ways. Readers can resonate with these halfway characters, because most readers have a little half-good and half-evil in them.

(Courtesy of Delaney)
Teachers rock.
I don’t remember if I first fell in love with the teachers at Hogwarts when Professor Moody turned Malfoy into a ferret or when McGonagall gave Harry a biscuit for lashing out at Umbridge (probably before that when she let him on the quidditch team or when she stood watch over the Dursleys house for an entire day – that’s called commiting to your students, man.)

(Me again)
I will share one of my favorite lessons–magic is real. Maybe magic isn’t the swish of a wand, or uttering the right pronunciation of an incantation. Magic is more. All you have to do is spot it when it’s before your very nose.

The boy who lived.

The boy who lived.

Doubt, Discovery, and Anne Dillard

“Push it. Examine all things intensely and relentlessly.”

Anne Dillard inspires me. This quote in particular seems decadently appropriate to my recent experiences and current frame of mind. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has two annual General Conferences, one in April and another in October. The biggest highlight for me from this last conference came from Rosemary Wixom’s address. She shared the story of a woman who wrestled with doubts about the church. This quote in particular resonated deeply with me:

“In spite of her substantial support system, she became less active. She said, “I did not separate myself from the Church because of bad behavior, spiritual apathy, looking for an excuse not to live the commandments, or searching for an easy out. I felt I needed the answer to the question ‘What do I really believe?’”

The sister from Rosemary Wixom’s talk eventually regained her testimony, and rejoined the church that she had stopped participating in. But I am not the sister she speaks of, and my spiritual skirmishes lack the tidiness requisite for a conference talk, unflappingly delivered with deliberate, measured words. My wrestle is a tangible part of my daily ins and outs, and has been for almost two years. At present, I flippantly joke that I am 48% mormon. I have become disillusioned of some rather core LDS ideology, and I cannot find a solution or answer to my questions. I do however hold fast to what I know beyond knowing.

Following Jesus Christ makes me whole.  Service is the secret to happiness. Family is the greatest treasure. God loves you. Always.

These simple thoughts are my foundation, roof, sidewalk and solace. I am still in the middle of determining “what I really believe,” but I find myself feeling surprisingly weightless.

Hebrews 12: 1-2 Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.

(italics added)

I don’t believe that the LDS faith is the only route to God anymore. But I am taking everything a single step at a time. Discovering what I believe feels better than dappled sunshine on my skin. I feel confidence and calm in approaching God, and with that as my yardstick, I will endeavor to keep on in my attempts.

“When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw “the tree with the lights in it.” It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker creek and thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing that like being for the first time see, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells un-flamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with the lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.”

It is a foreign and frightening sensation to realize that you are so far from the harbor you called home. But one cannot journey backward. “I feel as though I stand at the foot of an infinitely high staircase, down which some exuberant spirit is flinging tennis ball after tennis ball, eternally, and the one thing I want in the world is a tennis ball.”

Onward and upward.

Recap Fragments

April embraces me. I often feel that whichever month I am in, has ready claim on being my favorite month. That said, I really must assert that April is undeniably deserving of my affection. It is my birthday month, and also that of my fella’s, so if anyone ever had an iron-clad excuse for month-related favoritism, I’d like to imagine that we certainly do.

Our celebrations began on April 2, when we attended a smash-tastic concert. Alt-j is a bit difficult to describe (indie rock?), but they are definitely my kind of jam. They had this incredible light show, and their lead vocalist sounded even better in person than in their already-excellent recordings. Definitely worth the $$ and the 4 month waiting period.

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We spent our birthday week in sunny CA. Surrounded by familiar faces, we enjoyed the surprisingly lush surroundings (Pittsburgh is, pardon the pun, a late bloomer in terms of spring trimmings). My Benjamin’s vacations are few and far between. This particular one was both overdue and fortuitous.

Mr. Man, soaking up the sunshine.

Mr. Man, soaking up the sunshine. And also maybe asleep. But lets just pretend that he’s deliberately working on his base tan.

On my actual birthday, the universe granted me a sign that I am indeed a favorite of Fate. These are hands-down my favorite sweet, but I have not found them in stores anywhere since I was 16. Thanks, universe. You're the best.  If I had any left I'd share with you. Maybe.

On my actual birthday, the universe granted me a sign. A sign that I am indeed favored by Fate. These are hands-down my favorite sweet, but I have not seen them in stores since I was 16. Thanks, universe. You’re the best. If I had any left I’d share with you. Maybe.

Lake Tahoe. What a flawless day.

Lake Tahoe. What a flawless sky.

Proof that I was really there and did not falsify my presence.

Proof that we were really there and that I did not falsify my presence.

We ended up hiking to Eagle Lake (located some-odd feet above Emerald Bay). Definitely a priceless, sampling of heaven.

We ended up hiking to Eagle Lake (located some-odd feet above Emerald Bay). Definitely a priceless, sampling of heaven.

I know that the new year technically begins January 1st…but for me, I feel the gears of my lift shifting most as I transition forward from my birthday. And I’ve got a feeling that this year is going to be a good one.