the most wonderful birthday of his life . . . "
(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 529 - 30)
Just over ten years ago, I received the following Harry Potter - themed Christmas letter from my wise wonderful friend The Reverend Nancy C. Tiederman. It has to be my all - time favorite Christmas letter ever. Over the last decade, I have read it silently to myself and aloud to my family numerous times, as well as sending photocopies to several very appreciative friends. Now, with Nancy's blessing I am posting it on my blog in honor of Harry's birthday.
Sam as a little shepherd boy . . . and Ben as Harry Potter!
Even though you may not know Nancy's friends and relatives, I think you'll find that her letter is so beautifully, so magically written that it all makes perfect sense. No matter what time of year I read it, it never fails to inspire me, especially when I read her closing words: "Even if you haven't read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone you surely know Harry's life was saved by love."
December 20, 2000
Dear Friends and Relations,
A long time ago,when I was very young, my desire [see erised, Chapter 12, 207 - 14] was to live to the unimaginable age of sixty (a round and meaningful number) in order to witness the change to the next century. 2000 seemed impossibly far away.
2000! I made it! I had not known it would be titled "The Millennium," but I intuitively knew the change from 1900's to 2000's would be a Big Event. Something magical would surely happen.
It turned out it wasn't really The Year of Millennium: it was the Year of Harry Potter. Our (adult) children gave me the complete set of books -- hardbound -- for my birthday, and reading rapidly for plot, I began to understand the year 2000.
Bill and I were rescued from becoming compete Muggles -- soft, overweight people who have no vision of the good, the beautiful, the delightful -- by dear friends who persisted until we found a date to join them for late spring hiking in the Smokey Mountains. In my slightly Muggle state, I begged for a heart / lung transplant in order to get back "up" the rocky trail we hiked down. With the help of loving friends, we struggled back into a better view of life.
The Harry Potter stories teach us "There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve - foot mountain troll is one of them" (179). My own mountain troll was several years of health problems and a mind resigned to grow old, inactive and sad. Bill and I are very grateful to have friends who persisted until we joined them in slaying personal trolls and having fun with children our own age.
Hogwarts, where Harry goes to boarding school, looks like a "vast castle with many turrets and towers . . . windows sparkling in the starry sky" (111). Bill and our children rented a house on the Atlantic coast of Florida that had those same qualities -- though on a slightly smaller scale -- for a three - day celebration for the Birthday Girl. Family and friends came from Gainesville, St. Louis, Indiana and California (others wanted to come from Washington and Maine) just to celebrate Life! More giant trolls were slain -- the ones that say: "be embarrassed to tell your age and be ashamed to grow old." It is a lot more fun to sprinkle on some fairy dust, eat four different kinds of birthday cake, fresh Florida fruits and berries, and enough shrimp to sink a shrimp boat. After naps, we bobbed in the warm salty surf off Ponte Verde Beach. Like Harry, it was time for me to realize "Books! And cleverness! There are more important things -- friendship and bravery" (287).
Bravery. That was the quality Bill drew upon when the anxiety producing ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) interviewers / examiners came to U of F: M.E. As Harry said, anticipating facing the evil wizard, there is a "prickle of fear every time 'you-know-who' is mentioned. I suppose it's all part of entering the [magical] world." The wizard examiners came, looked around, talked with faculty, staff and students and left with no alternative but to admit UF's Mechanical Engineering program is "okay!"
One day Harry Potter received the gift of the latest model flying broomstick: a number 2000, "Sleek and shiny, with a mahogany handle" (166). We drove our old sporty midlife crisis Eclipse into broom straw and so one June day we gave ourselves a new traveling machine: A Honda Accord with leather seats, cruise control and power everything. No longer do we receive invitations for highway racing; now we ride safe, cruising down the road to our adventures.
Like Harry's friend Hermione Granger, "I'm particularly interested in Transfiguration you know, turning something into something else" (125). With my friend Mary and my daughter Ruth, I went on pilgrimage in October to Belfast, No. Ireland, to learn about transforming "the troubles" or violence into reconciliation through contemplative prayer. His Holiness the Dali Lama and Benedictine monk Fr. Lawrence Freeman led us. The Dali Lama said, "stop studying meditation: do it." He also challenged the Protestants and Catholics to become Christians. Returning home I felt as if I had climbed "staircases . . . that led somewhere different on a Friday" (131). Unlike working with wands, when working with prayer, one is never quite sure what will happen. As is so often the case with people who enter wholeheartedly into a pilgrimage experience, the three of us were the ones transformed.
A year or so ago, Bill and I thought we might try to move back "home" to the Western States (NOT Western Florida this time) but our ideas, assumptions and day dreams turned out to be "solid walls just pretending" to be doors" (132). We are still not well - rooted in this land of below - sea - level - sand. We cannot explain the chess came called Election of a President played on a chess board shaped like Florida using Live Human chess pieces: Bishop Electors, Queen Secretary of State, Knights of the Election Board and Voter-Pawns. You have to play the game: winner becomes King President. It's a test to get to the next challenge in the battle against evil.
The great Wizard Dumbledore said truth "is a beautiful and terrible thing and should therefore be treated with great caution" (298). The Truth of Ultimate Reality is what all our Christmas activity is about. When we do it properly we are sharing our faith that
Love was born at Christmas; stars and angels give the sign.
Worship we the Godhead, love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus, but wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token, love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and neighbor, love for plea and gift and sign."
~~ Christian Rossetti ~~
Even if you haven't read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone you surely know Harry's life was saved by love. "To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved is gone, will give us some protection forever" (299).
When you enter the "forbidden forest" where wild beasts and unknowns lurk, may you draw bravery, strength and life to battle goblins and all that is evil from your friends and family who love you and from the True Source of all Love.
Nancy and Bill
[page numbers refer to
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
by J. K. Rowling
~~ The Rev. Nancy C. Tiederman ~~
Merry Christmas in July!
Happy Birthday Nancy!
Happy Birthday Harry Potter!
Harry's Golden Snitch Birthday Cake"'Out of the way, out of the way!' sang Mrs. Weasley,
coming through the gate with what appeared to be a giant,
beach-ball-sized Snitch floating in front of her.
Seconds later Harry realized that it was his birthday cake . . .
'That looks amazing, Mrs. Weasley.'"
(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 119)
Gerry, Kitti, Nancy, Bill