“The coaches were no longer horseless. There were creatures standing between the carriage shafts.” -HP Order of the Phoenix
Luna Lovegood: “They’re called Thestrals. They’re quite gentle, really… But people avoid them because they’re a bit…” Harry Potter: “Different. But why can’t the others see them?” Luna Lovegood: “They can only be seen by people who’ve seen death.”
This is a beautifully crafted metaphor and one that I’ve always found interesting but never so poignant. In The Order of the Phoenix, Harry arrives at Hogwarts by carriage. In all his previous years, he’s witnessed these carriages arrive on their own accord. Nothing pulls them. For the first time, he notices creatures pulling the carriages. In a simple moment, Rowling perfectly captures something so difficult to describe in words.
This past July, my mother died. Like most things in life which are taken from us, her departure was (and still is) unexpected. I start this blog mentioning her passing because of Parker Palmer’s words: “If we want to grow as teachers — we must do something alien to academic culture: we must talk to each other about our inner lives — risky stuff in a profession that fears the personal and seeks safety in the technical, the distant, the abstract.” I’ve left those words on the front of this site as a reminder that her passing is now part of my story, but she lives on in me, my life, and my family.
Rowling’s image of the Thestrals is also a reminder. We are limited in our understanding of one another. Limited by our own story. In the years before Mom’s passing, I’d watched other friends lose parents and loved ones. I empathized. I connected. I tried to be present – but I had difficulty understanding. In hindsight, I had difficulty realizing I was having difficulty understanding. The Thestrals were invisible to me. Much in life is still invisible to me when I look at those around me. Rolwing reminds us in this simple moment that the joys and sadness of others is quite difficult to fully grasp. Norman Maclean makes this point so eloquently:
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”
This blog is a search to understand others and in doing so, myself. My mother was a generous person. I pray her final act of generosity can be wisdom through the suffering of her loss. May I finally see the Thestrals that I may truly know and care for those around me.