Imperfect Serenity

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Potter Predictions

I know, Quakers have a long history of rejecting the popular culture. It’s probably an embarrassment to Quaker bloggers everywhere that I’m bringing up the most hyped literary event of living memory. But I can’t help it. I want to know how the Harry Potter series is going to end. My faith in J.K. Rowling is at stake.

A few posts ago I got some comments about human sinfulness. As I said then, I do believe all people have the propensity for evil in them, but they also have the propensity for good. I suspect Rowling shares this belief. One of the things that I like about the Harry Potter books is that our duality is shown. Harry, Ron and Hermione can be pretty nasty to each other. Whether Snape is good or bad is the subject of much internet debate, and James Potter, Harry’s father, was a bit of a bully in his youth, before becoming an evil-fighting hero. Perhaps most significantly, Dumbledore smiled when he realized that Voldemort now had some of Harry’s blood—the blood protected by Lilly’s love. Perhaps even Voldemort is redeemable (like Darth Vader) if he just gets some therapy to process his nasty childhood. Certainly Dumbledore thought there was still something worth saving in Draco Malfoy, who at the crucial moment wasn’t able to cast the killing curse.

It’s not George Bush’s world where there are evil doers and good guys (including Scooter Libby and Dick Cheney who was responsible for Abu Ghraib). In Rowling’s world, it is our choices that matter, not who we profess to follow. I predict this theme will be reiterated in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with key characters making choices that shape their fates. What those fates are I cannot say, though I will be absolutely shocked if Harry gets whacked. Unlike other mothers whose children will be gobbling down the book, I’m not uncomfortable with the prospect of some characters dying—death and loss are part of life, and I think children should know that—though I’m not crazy about people getting murdered. In fact this Quaker mother’s biggest fear is that the “good guys” will end up as killers. I’m hoping there is some hidden escape clause in the prophesy line “neither can live while the other survives” that saves Harry from becoming a murderer. My favorite thing about the Star Wars trilogy was that Luke redeemed Darth Vader rather than killing him. I’ll be disappointed if it is more like Lord of the Rings where good triumphs over evil in a blood bath.

As for other predictions, I think Dumbledore’s portrait is going to be very helpful. So might the potions notes by the “Half-Blood Prince.” I think the characters whom Harry has helped in the past (Fred, George, Mr. Weasley, Dobby, and especially Peter Pettigrew) are going to help him out in the end, proving some kind of cosmic karma. (The lousy way wizards treat house elves might also have some karmic repercussions.) I suspect Mundungus accidentally stole a horcrux when he robbed Sirius’ house. I think Harry and Ginny will end up together, as will Ron and Hermione, who will need years of marriage counseling. There was much speculation at our dinner table tonight that Harry is secretly related to someone (Dumbledore, Voldemort and Hermione were all theories). Maybe, but to know that we’ll have to wait another twenty-eight hours.

Friday, July 13, 2007


The other day I was reading Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism. He argues that optimism can be learned, and that it helps us to weather disappointments, illness, and can even prevent depression and anxiety. This doesn’t mean we should just repeat baseless affirmations to ourselves, however. He says true optimism is shown in how we interpret disappointing or difficult events. Do we blame ourselves, citing something unchangeable like luck or our lack of talent? Or do we identify factors that we could affect in the future? For example, instead of saying, “I failed the test because I’m stupid, or because the teacher is unfair,” an optimist will say, “I failed the test because I didn’t study. Last time when I studied I did well, so for the next text I just need to work harder.” He acknowledges that there could be some truth in several different explanations of our problem (maybe the teacher is unfair), but focusing on the one we can do something about is more likely to get us a different outcome the next time.

Just after I read this I received some disappointing news, so I got the chance to practice Seligman’s approach. Of the possible explanations, I could blame myself, blame someone else, or focus on how I could get a better outcome next time. Then there were the mystical explanations: God has something better in store for me; or God is trying to teach me something through this. I find that both of those hold true for most disappointments, and they are not incompatible with looking for something constructive to do next. I was just starting to mull all this over when I ran into a mother I know from baseball and told her my frustration. She had a completely different explanation: “Mercury was in retrograde!” she said, as if that cleared up everything. The funny thing was that her explanation really cheered me up, even though I don’t believe in astrology. It was somehow heartening to think that a) it wasn’t my fault, b) I didn’t need to learn anything, and c) it was a temporary set back (since Mercury is no longer in retrograde, whatever that means).

Just in case the movements of the planets don’t solve my problems, I’m still figuring out what I’m supposed to be learning. As I was writing this, a good friend came into the coffee shop where I’m writing and told me something she read recently about contemplative practice. The gist of it was that when something comes at you in life, you can either brace yourself, or you can open up to it and surrender. The author said that when you brace, you end up in your smaller self, a phrase my friend really related to. When you surrender, however, you are more in your centered self, more expansive and better able to deal with things. The trick, we both agreed, is in knowing what being your centered self looks like in terms of the practical daily choices. When I finish writing this blog entry, what do I do next? Surrender could mean going home and taking a nap, though in my case, I don’t believe surrender requires giving up. This is, of course, all fodder for my writing, which is another explanation for why I needed this lesson.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Getting Here

Last night my husband Tom and I went out to dinner. At some point he asked, “Do you ever wonder, ‘How did I get here?’” Although I hadn’t asked the question quite that way, I had been thinking about the circuitous route my life has taken. Two weeks ago we went on vacation with a dear college friend whom I met almost twenty-seven years ago on a bike trip. Then last week I was writing about my stint as a canvasser, which I was startled to realize began eighteen years ago. I found that job because a trip to the mountains with a high school friend hit bad weather, and we ended up inside a lodge reading the newspaper classifieds. I met my husband because of rain too, which taught me to never complain about the weather. I met another good friend because a sunny day put us in the same sandbox with our toddlers. If it hadn’t been for her, I would never have taught at LaSalle, which is what led to my teaching at UArts. I could go on naming turns in the road that came seemingly by accident, though when I probe those memories further I realize that each came in response to something I was hoping for—a friend, an activist job, a partner, a mother friend, and a way to make money that fit with motherhood. I’m still mulling the “law of attraction” concept, the idea that we attract people and events into our lives through our intentions. I’m still considering how that fits with the idea of a loving God who sometimes throws us curveballs.

I interviewed someone recently who said that thinking about predestination gave him a headache. My reaction is even more negative since I think assuming that God has our lives all planned out for us can keep us from doing things we ought to be doing ourselves. The interesting question for me is how much of our lives is shaped by our choices and how much by fate or chance. Would it change the way I lived if I thought it was one or the other? Either way, it seems my life has been a great adventure. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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