I discovered Harry Potter in elementary school. My best friend at school let me borrow her copy of The Chamber of Secrets, and even starting out of order, I was hooked.
I have distinct memories of reading The Goblet of Fire in the back of my parent’s electric blue Explorer as we drove around Austin looking at the different schools they were considering sending me to for junior high and beyond.
At some point, I got my little hands on a box full of cassette tapes whose black curly ribbons contained an audio performance of The Sorcerer’s Stone. I listened to it over and over every night before bed.
Over the years I have read the series in full or in part, honestly, at least a hundred times. I went to the book release parties at midnight at Barnes and Noble. I sat with my face buried in each new tome, reading cover to cover within 48 hours of getting it in my hands.
As I got older and returned to the stories, I discovered new depths, I noticed the ways the characters had shaped my own character. Hermione made me feel good about being smart, and a reader, and bold. She was perhaps the first activist I encountered as she fought for House Elf rights. I love stories of friendship and the unfolding of good triumphing over evil.
When the second part of the Deathly Hallows came out in theaters I was technically an adult. I was in college and had just returned from a month in Ecuador. My parents took me to see the movie to celebrate my 20th birthday. We went to a fancy new theater in Austin that had fully reclining chairs, handed out blankets and served way more than the standard popcorn.
I bawled during the last scenes. Not only because of the incredible imagery (though of course the story and the ending were no surprise to me), and not only because I was exhausted from international travel and a month away from home, but also because this was it. This was the last release of an element of a story that so deeply shaped me and had been my companion from childhood into adolescence and now into adulthood. Sitting there in that dark theater next to my parents as I got ready to return to college and finish my last semesters there, I knew this season was coming to a close.
I still reread Harry Potter from time to time. It’s comforting to pick up my hardback copies that are falling apart at their bindings and open to any page and find myself comfortably smack in the middle of my favorite story. Years ago, I lent my copy of The Prisoner of Azkaban to someone to read. As I neared the end of my time in Waco, I started asking around, trying to figure out who might have it. I realized with sadness that I somehow lost my original copy of my favorite installment of this story. My last Spring Break of seminary I took a trip to London for a class and bought a British version second hand from a bookstore simply to fill the void on the shelf. But it was short, and squat, and paperback, and not the same.
I was in Austin recently and I went upstairs in my grandparent’s house and was looking at the pictures on the bookshelves. There it was! The Prisoner of Azkaban with its worn binding, its stains and wrinkled pages. I had been searching for it for years, asking everyone I could think of if I had lent it to them. I had given it up for lost. Now, it was found!
I tucked it protectively into my carry-on and took it back to Charlottesville where it now sits safe on the shelf with its companions.
Recently, I discovered I can check out audiobooks from my local library through an app on my phone. The waiting lists for each of the Harry Potter books are dozens of weeks long. So, I add myself to those lists and wait.
On Sunday, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone was automatically downloaded into my library. Since then, I have listened to the story each night while I fall asleep.
And that, is what is saving my life right now. A return to a ritual from childhood. A return to a story that shaped who I am. A return to comfort and well-loved words that lull me to sleep.
What’s saving yours?