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By Micah Latty
“Dear Mr. Potter, We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry . . .”
I got my admission letter to Hogwarts at approx. the same age as Mr. H. Potter, The Cupboard under the Stairs, Number 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. By this I mean that I was about 11 when Harry Potter swiftly and for reasons that remain unclear went from forbidden to pretty much required reading in my family.
It recently struck me how mundane Harry et al. find their studies. They complain about homework, seem uninterested in reading about magic, and celebrate the cancellation of exams. (Hermione is an obvious exception, but the exception proves the rule.) Of course, I also complained about school work in middle school and high school (the complain hasn’t stopped tbh). But it makes sense to complain about high school Chemistry. It makes much less sense to complain about 3rd year Potions—even if one’s Potions Master is less amiable than one might have hoped.
On second thought, though, I shouldn’t be surprised by the wizard children’s generally blasé attitude toward the magic they’re immersed in. If I suddenly found myself capable of performing similar magic (the nightmare of Evangelical parents everywhere), I suspect I would quickly become desensitized to the thrill of it. Potions class would become just as tedious as Chemistry. I suspect this because I manage to find our ostensibly non-magic (Muggle) world dull. And that Muggle world is hardly less magical than the wondrous world of Harry Potter—our universe is filled with things far more strange and fantastic than flying broomsticks, love potions, or dragons.
One of the amazing things about the human brain is its capacity to more or less take the world in stride. Surrounded by mind-boggling things, we somehow remain calm and collected enough to cook breakfast, play golf, talk with a friend, or scroll Instagram. Or sleep, for that matter. This particular cognitive configuration is no doubt beneficial to the propagation of our species. But it comes with a cost: It lulls us into perceiving the world as ordinary and human life as rather pedestrian.
This mental “disenchantment software” occasionally glitches, however, allowing us glimpses of the world in its strangeness. From time to time, for a few fleeting moments, the cognitive veil drifts aside and the world is revealed as so unbearably odd that it (the world) feels simultaneously unreal and very much more real than usual.
For me, these experiences usually go something like this. I’m eating Doritos and watching Arrested Development. And suddenly I’m struck by just how freakishly strange it is that I am here, glued by an invisible force to the cool surface of a molten rock falling around (orbiting) a ball of fire. I live in a world that popped out of nothing; a world that has gotten along just fine without me, whatever I am, for such a monstrously long time that the dust has managed to creep and crawl and swim and fly its way into ever greater complexity—eventually producing creatures (us) who can make love and war and Auschwitz and The Office. Circa 1995, my physical form took shape (with the considerable help of my parents), my consciousness emerged (apparently out of nothing), and I found myself here, in the midst of the beautiful and terrible mass of soulful dust that is humanity. And now that peculiar whatever-it-is called “me” plunges through that peculiar whatever-it-is called “time,” which will soon return us all to the dust and the universe itself to nothingness. Dust to dust; nothingness to nothingness.
But, then, how is there something? And how did I come to be a part of that something? Am I supposed to do something with the something I am before the something I am becomes nothing again?
And the Earth continues to hurtle around the Sun, and the Universe continues to hurtle through time, and—
These “glitching” experiences only last a few seconds, at which point the cognitive systems tasked with preventing me from loosing my mind reset and the world feels normal again. I’m eating Doritos and watching Arrested Development. The world doesn’t feel like it’s careening in any particular direction, time ticks by at a reassuringly slow pace, and my couch seems reasonably solid, not in apparent danger of sliding into nothingness. But it’s hard to shake the renewed awareness that the world is very mysterious indeed. Magical, even.
There are rumors that this world was conjured out of nothing by some Being, a Being who molded the stars with His fingers and with those same fingers stooped to mold human beings from the dust. There are rumors that this Being lived among us, washed our feet, and allowed us to judge, torture, and kill Him. And there are whispers that He rejected our judgement by rising from the dead. If these rumors are true, there is a great deal more magic in this world than we could have ever asked or imagined.