A couple of weeks ago, JK Rowling made headlines when she tweeted a photo of a handwritten card bearing the legend "Expecto Patronum." She'd written it for a fan who reached out to her on Twitter, asking the author to provide the phrase in her handwriting so that she could have it tattooed on her arm, where she often self-harmed. As fans of the Wizarding World know, "Expecto Patronum" is a spell that summons a force of positive energy, defending the witch or wizard who casts it from ominous dementors, which suck happiness out of the world. Rowling has explained in interviews that the dementors in her Harry Potter novels are a symbol for her own struggle with depression.
Perhaps it was that same challenge that shaped her into the person she is today, admired by legions of fans for her compassionate heart and commitment to social justice as much as for her brilliant writing skills. Rowling is still one of my favorite authors, although I am long past the age recommended on the dust jackets of my old set of Potter books. Because I grew up reading her books, it comes as no surprise that I have looked to her for wisdom and inspiration during the dark times in my life.
Rowling has wonderful things to say, both on and off the page. Below, check out a few of the quotes that have spent some time on my inspiration wall. I hope they help you as much as they have helped me.
1. "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
This quote from Chamber of Secrets has stayed with me since I first read it when I was eight years old. Even today, it reminds me that even though I'm not perfect I still have the power to shape my life through the choices I make. When I fail at something, I can always choose to keep trying. Because of that decision, I'm no longer a failure - I am perseverant. Nothing about my flaws needs to define who I am, because I can decide what kind of person I want to be.
2. "Never be ashamed! There's some who'll hold it against you, but they're not worth bothering with."
At certain times in my life, I've had very public breakdowns. Living with manic depression means that sometimes other people notice that something isn't right with you, and when those people are colleagues or acquaintances, it's easy to see the judgment in their eyes. Knowing that you are exposed in this way is hard enough as it is, and not being able to control the situation makes it even worse. For a long time, I experienced a great deal of shame. Sometimes it was so acute that I could barely look anyone in the eye, and I hated leaving my apartment because it made me feel so vulnerable. But Rowling helped me understand that I shouldn't think too much about those people because it wasn't helpful to my healing process, and that enabled me to focus my time and attention on people who were loving and supportive. I still have a hard time with shame sometimes, but as I grow this lesson resonates with me more and more.
3. "It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case you have failed by default."
I spent a long time being afraid to try new things because I didn't want to fail. I didn't want to expose myself as someone who didn't have it all together. Instead, I didn't try at all so that I never had to reveal (to myself or anyone else) that I was inadequate. At some point, I realized that everyone starts out being inadequate, and that we can't improve at anything without jumping in and practicing over and over again. Now, I'll try all sorts of things, and my life is richer for the experience. Even Rowling, a brilliant writer with millions of fans, isn't perfect. But she is great at what she does because she tries, and she isn't afraid to mess it up a few times before she gets it right.
4. "We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better."
Rowling's commencement address to the Harvard University class of 2008 is so meaningful. For someone like me who has spent a lot of time wishing I were a part of her Wizarding World, this is an important lesson. The world we live in is far from perfect. This is perhaps more evident than ever as we move through this tumultuous election year. But it doesn't take the wave of a wand or an incantation to make it better. The power to do that is inside you. If every person in the world made an effort to be more loving, compassionate, and peaceful, we would see a radical change. So do your part by starting that work on yourself, because we all need it.
5. "Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery."
This lesson from Goblet of Fire that has been particularly special to me as I have started on my mindfulness journey. In the book, Dumbledore gives Harry this piece of wisdom as he is struggling to process some very intense grief, but it is relevant to many stages of life. Understanding what you are experiencing and learning to accept things as they are is an important part of growth, and getting to know the place you are in is the first step to navigating toward a better place.
Have you read the Potter novels? What other books or authors have had an impact on you? Literature is such an important part of my life. I can't imagine what my journey would be like without it. Please let me know what you're reading right now in the comments. I would love to hear from you!