A Harry Potter Sermon to the Ideological Orphans of 2018
Note: This is an interdisciplinary post in conjunction with my other ongoing project Mujer Non-Grata: An Ongoing Series on Life in a Cult, Healing from Religious Trauma Syndrome, and Navigating Life After Religion. For more on this series, click here.
This post started to percolate last Sunday when my brother and I flew out to NYC to see The Cursed Child.
And, while I am DYING to give you my thoughts on Cursed Child, I know that any potter-heads reading this will not be happy with my take aways:
1. It was amazing.
2. I can't figure out half of the special effects and it has been bothering me because I NEED TO KNOW.
3. Tonys are guaranteed. Tony awards for everyone.
4. My brother is the only person in the world I wanted to have that day with. He was the one who first handed me Philosopher's Stone during a lonely summer in my teens and that day changed the course of my life (see point 5).
5. I can't wait till the show more accessible to people around the country so we can all talk about--mostly my husband who very graciously tried to pretend he was excited for me (we started flirting over Harry Potter ten years ago) but I know he would sell my right kidney to just get one ticket out there.
I had planned to do an entire post on the show and then realized that part of what makes the show so special is, as so much of their brilliant marketing has asked of it's patrons: "keep the secrets". We get to be secret-keepers, so to speak. So, while I will be restraining myself and not doing a spoiler filled-glee fest on Cursed Child, my thoughts did lead to a different discussion that I thought I could offer up because I owe my fellow potter-heads as much.
I’ve been thinking about Lily Potter lately. And about Snape. And James.
OK, ok! I am always thinking about Harry Potter. I am who I am...
And I have also been thinking about what my friends and I refer to as Trump orphans. Or Catholic orphans. Or <insert any ideological/authoritarian relationship/ institution> orphans. I define this orphanhood as when one has had to turn away from loved ones, an institution, or a community because they have ideologically crossed lines that are non-negotiables for you as a person. I have seen friends, family, and communities torn apart recently over ideology and I have seen first hand how devastating it can be for the individuals that eventually have to walk away because their authenticity as a person and their moral compass is at stake.
And so we go back to Lily Potter. I can't imagine how difficult it was to see her best friend—her anchor in her own isolation and loneliness—start to diverge down a type of authoritarianism that she herself not only could not follow, but that actually targeted and persecuted her. From what we know from the HP canon, she didn’t walk away easily. It took years and years and a process of grieving giving up the person that she knew intimately and loved because she had to reconcile that that person was also exactly who he said he was—he was to his core pro an anti-muggle agenda, had some serious white male fragility issues, and was intoxicated with the idea of power (very real patriarchal power if you deconstruct the Death Eaters and Voldemort). I imagine that having to walk away from Snape was one of the hardest decisions she made in her life (I know how ridiculous it is that I am talking about them as if they were real people, but stay with me).
For Lily to make such a difficult break and then go and work for the Order—to actively resist—that was an incredibly brave decision in the midst of loss and heartbreak. And while it was the right thing to do—in our own terminology Lily was on the right side of history, I think we underplay how hard it can be to pivot from those we love when they are wrong. The fear of loss can bind us stronger than any physical chains. And so I have thought about how this pivot must have been like for Lily (again, I know she is not real, but #sorrynotsorry). First, there is the personal and communal trauma of watching an evil organization with people she knew rising to power and enacting acts of harm and hate. This is the "normal" revolution type of anxiety, stress, and rage. But another part of me wonders how much harder it was pivoting having left someone she loved behind on the inside. For Lily, unlike James or Sirius for whom the Death Eaters were a monolith to be defeated, it had to have been much more difficult. It is easier to process the nature of these types of movements when you are a) on the outside entirely (James) or b) have childhood trauma from said organization (Sirius) that allows you to, from a distance, look at the entire situation and say, “We need to defeat it.” There is an advantage in being able to separate yourself from the rhetoric and nuances because your lived experience was different and on the outside.
But Lily? I can’t imagine that any of the conversations about the Death Eaters were not also doubly triggering because there was no monolithic approach to all Death Eaters. She knew that they were real people with real lives who, even if they did not know it, were functioning from a place of trauma (at times generation indoctrination as well). She knew that some had been prime folks to be recruited because of their own said trauma (Snape and his relationship with his family, his poverty, the bullying, the never fitting in) who now either blindly followed authority because it felt safer than questioning the world around them that they were already struggling to be a part of or because the organization itself was very good at speaking to the lies they believed about themselves.
Speaking for myself—I was in a cult. And I got out. But I left people behind. I left people behind that I loved. I left people behind that I still love. I know a lot of you have as well. And the truth is, I just couldn’t save them. And for a while it felt like that was what I needed to do. For a very long time it felt like if I could just get them out, if I could just see them living free (authentically, informed--whatever your situation is), if I could just make them understand what was happening to them and the world around us, then maybe it would all feel better. Maybe then it wouldn't all have been for nothing--the pain, the grieving, the rage. I so desperately fought losing them that I almost lost myself (literally and figuratively). I eventually realized that at some point you do have to walk away. Maybe that is why Lily didn’t break from Snape until later in their Hogwarts years and defended him fiercely, even when he didn't deserve it, until the end. I know for myself, it was mind-shattering to think that people I knew and loved, people I had deep friendships and relationships with who were so kind and gentle (to me while I was still on the "inside") could also be those who were perpetrating oppression, harm, and hate—that they could align themselves with an organization who’s history was so dark and the bloodshed so unfathomable it would take volumes and volumes of history to just cover the things that are already in the light. I still can't truly reconcile the people I know and love with what they believe. I'm not sure we are ever really meant to. Humans are difficult and complex creatures.
When I look at movements like the Alt-Right, I see the Death Eaters: fragile “pure” families who could not cope with a changing world. With the Church, I see the same reflections, the same fragility. The rhetoric is the same: it’s us against the world! We have to protect the purity of (insert any theology here). Dissent is attack. Dialogue is dangerous. Think of Dolores Umbridge (for a past post on Dolores and the nature of evil, click here), if you will. Most folks are not Voldemort. Most folks doing harm are Dolores, and I 100% do not think it is a coincidence that her name means pain (shoutout to Dolores in Westworld).
And then I go back and I think of Lily. And how she didn’t dedicate her life to saving Snape (or one singular person). She also did not become bitter by the horrifying changing world around her. She did not close off. By all accounts she actually opened herself up to love and to the calling to resist because it was the right thing to do. She simultaneous chose to fight but also to move on. I find this so incredibly powerful. I think we could all learn from her example in 2018. We can learn from this in our own parallels with similar loss.
I cannot save any of the metaphorical Snapes in my life. I never could. And it was never my job to do that, similar to how it was never Lily’s job to save Snape (or Petunia, if you really think about it). And trying to—that consistent engagement? That’s a trauma response. It’s not actually doing the work. It is not true resistance. Its like scratching a blistering wound in hopes that it will heal. It can feel good to momentarily get that final word it, to say the grand "fuck you", to sometimes even say the right thing—but it’s not the work. The work is bigger than that. And while bridge-building and truth telling is absolutely a part of resisting, this work cannot come at the cost of self. And I think Lily knew that. So her transgressive resistance was to live her life well, to love, to fight the bigger fight, and to heal. What bigger resistance is there than a life well lived? It is truly transgressive to heal and to authentically speak truth to power in all that you do and are--to be living proof that there is "happiness to be found (quoting Dumbledore here) even in the darkest places if one just remembers to turn on the light" comes to mind. That does not mean we do not resist. That does not mean that the fight is a personal one. It means it can be an and/or. It can be both. You can fight and resist and also practice self-care and not give in to a personal savior complex. It is really all so nuanced in the work of resistance (and equity and equality).
When I look at authoritarian movements going on today, both political and religious, I think the reason they are so scared is because people are flourishing in spite of them or their messages. Their movements are failing. Their movements are dying. No amount of "fake news" or "infallibility" will drown out the light or bring people back. That is why they are all so afraid. It is why they lash out (again, trauma responses). And while my heart breaks for people on the other side because I really do think it’s a small percentage that are truly malicious and hateful and that most people are just wounded and complicit, I am ok with walking away and not taking the bait. They purposefully use very coded language—language that sounds like love and community and healing because it works. Gas-lighting works. It makes it harder to not engage, to not feel shame and guilt at your decision to walk away. But once you can see the coded language for what it is -- once you see and understand what they are saying for what it is and where it comes from, it is impossible to turn back. And it is incredibly freeing and brings a sense of healing as well.
James, Harry, and the Order were Lily's light. They were her legacy. They were a very real part of her resistence. Do I think she ever forgot the loss of her best friend? No. Do I think it was a thread in the tapestry of her resistance? Sure. Of course. How could it not be? Loss is a motivator that we cannot disregard as solely trauma—it is a fundamental part of the human experience and it hurts and shapes us. To love (a person, a community, and institution) cannot just be turned off. But love can transition. It can change with time into something calmer. It can change into something that you can live with and work with. And so can loss. This is how healing works, particularly in this line of trauma work and resistance work.
Judging by Snape’s own torment at the loss the Lily, who was killed by the same organization he had chosen over her, I have come to believe that her example, both the love for her family that she died for but also the authentic love and kindness she showed him, I think this is what changed Snape. It wasn't just the loss of the woman he loved. It was reflecting back on what could have been because her life was proof that it could have been so very different for him as well. Most of us will never get closure or healing with those we left behind (community, institution, ECT.), but it’s ok. It is ok to have loose threads in the tapestry that is your life because it means that you are living. And living in spite of it all? That is resistance.
Post-Note: I just want to say, "I see you." I see you, you white heterosexual males who have taken to gas-lighting my writing for the Mujer Non-Grata series. And while I will not engage with gas-lighting (gas-lighting is different than having honest dialogue--I would be more than willing to participate in the latter), I'd like to put you on notice that it has only been white males that have reached out to correct me on my own interpretations of my own lived experience, whereas ironically I have had so many responses from women in solidarity and even some men from seriously deep within the network. And they are now writing too. They are resisting as well. And we will continue to resist. But please, keep telling me how you know things. xoxo M