Harry Potter

Sometimes I think that the worst thing you can do as a parent is watch the news. Why do we do it? I mean, it’s not like we need any help when it comes to imagining terrible things happening to our kids—one parent I know described it as “like having a horror movie playing constantly in your head.” And yet, despite the fact that our worrying is usually turned up to to eleven already, we watch the news and it’s like our worrying finds a whole new gear. There you are, minding your own business, worrying about the normal things parents worry about—things like maybe you somehow overlooked an abandoned well in your backyard, or that your child will be exposed to anthrax on their way home from school when—wham! —the news comes on and you find out that there are horrors you never even considered. Movie theaters. Marathons. Classrooms.

Yes, there’s no denying that the events of the last few weeks and months have made it rather difficult to be a parent. Whether it is happening in Aurora, or Newtown, or Boston, or even, most recently, Cleveland, the thought that random and senseless acts of violence could be directed at children—anybody’s children—can’t help but make all parents feel a terrible sort of sympathetic horror and helplessness.

I know I certainly have, which is why I have found myself turning once again to what, for me, is a constant source of strength and comfort: the Book. The Book that explains everything—good, evil, love, hate, fear, hope, betrayal, forgiveness—in a way that makes sense to both me and my children, and always has. And not only does it explain all of these things easily and well, it does so with such charm and humor that I don’t mind going back to it again and again, even when times are not troubled.

I am speaking, of course, of that greatest of all great books: Harry Potter. What, you thought I meant some other book? No: I prefer my fictional talking snakes without any extra misogyny and homophobia, thank you.

When people first learn that we are atheist parents, with potentially atheist children (I would no more believe I could decide my children’s level of religiosity for them than I could their sexuality), they are often curious as to how we approach things like the Boston Marathon bombing and the murders at Newtown. “But who (or what) do you turn to?” they ask. And I answer them: Harry Potter.

I’m not being facetious. And I’m sure I’m not alone. Just as I’m sure that other parents in the generations before me turned to Luke Skywalker, or Bilbo Baggins, or even King Arthur, there is something that is comforting about returning again and again to a character who chooses good over evil every single time. And if it happens to be a fictional character, well, so much the better, because fictional characters are the creations of ordinary men and women who dared to dream of a world where goodness was achievable. Where in the end, good always triumphs. No matter how many trials (or books) there are along the way.

Sometimes I think that that is all our children (or anyone else, for that matter) really needs: hope. That and the belief that there is more good than bad in the world. That for every crazy person intent on hurting people there are fifty more who are willing to put down their Big Macs and go help. (You know what I’m saying, bro?)

I realize that for some people the only place they can imagine finding such reassurance is in some kind of spirituality, complete with the promise of “better worlds to come,” but as for me, I think I’ll stick with Harry Potter. After all: with Harry Potter, you get dragons.

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