This Monday, May 9, was a very important day in my life. I left the world of “happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time,” aka, being twenty-two years old.
To celebrate, I went to one of my new favorite places: Harry Potter World. Very little can match the utter delight as you enter Hogsmead.
On your right, the Hogwarts' Express whistles and steams as it "enters" the station. On your left, rows of magical shops vie for your attention and money, including Honeydukes candy shop, the Three Broomsticks, and Olivander’s Wand Shop. Straight ahead, it’s impossible to miss the fire engine red Butterbeer cart. And all the while, you travel through Hogsmead keeping pace to the mysteriously familiar theme songs you’ve heard a million times while watching the films in theaters and in your living room. For lack of a better word, it’s magical.
One of the highlights of visiting Hogsmead is dressing up in whichever house you identify with: gold and red Gryffindor, known for their bravery; green and black Slytherin, famous for their ambition; yellow Hufflepuff, categorized by their loyalty; and finally, navy and silver Ravenclaw, home of the wise.
As most of you likely know, the most popular house is Gryffindor, as it “housed” the stories of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger.
And because it was the most popular house, I needed to identify with a different one. Because I simply don't want to be like everyone else.
Fortunately, there is a character in Ravenclaw I’ve always been drawn to: Luna Lovegood. She is strange, to say the least. With silvery blonde locks, crazy pink glasses (Spectrespecs), and an airy voice likely to recite nonsensical mumbo jumbo; she is definitely an original. As the story progresses, she is often the one to speak beautiful truth. She has always been a loner, and has watched and observed her classmates from the sidelines until she joins Harry, Ron, and Hermione in their quest against evil. I always felt like I “got” her.
Who hasn’t felt different? And who hasn’t felt like they don’t quite belong?
But there are some perks to being on the sidelines: those who really watch are the ones who see what others miss. That’s why I think Luna and I “get” each other.
So, when Harry Potter World opened, I began collecting my Ravenclaw apparel. I have a sweater, a T-shirt, and pieces of my Luna costume I wore for Halloween in high school. Now, my friends have caught onto my obsession, and have given me her awesome pink spectrespecs, and her father’s Deathly Hallows necklace. I am set, you guys. My costume rocks.
I laid out said costume the night before my birthday, as I was going to celebrate the next day in Hogsmead.
And hilariously, though one of the first points of conversation I often make with new acquaintances is “Which Hogwarts House are you?” (it’s a fascinating way to learn about people!) I have never taken the official Pottermore test devised by JK Rowling. I had taken the liberty of sorting myself.
And so, on May 8, the night before my 23rd birthday, I logged onto Pottermore and took the official test, certain my results would confirm what I’d been telling everyone, including myself, for years now: I was a Ravenclaw. I was smart and clever and witty.
However, that’s not what my test results said at all.
I was a Gryffindor.
Gryffindor, the house of the courageous, represented by a scarlet and gold lion.
This certainly would not do.
I planned never to tell anyone. It was my secret. Well, mine, and the Sorting Hat’s.
Regardless of my Pottermore results, the next day, I suited up in the navy blue of Ravenclaw and entered Hogsmead to the gentle hum of John Williams’ masterpiece.
My mom and I snagged a Butterbeer each (please, it was my birthday. There was no way I was sharing!), and then we nestled into a booth in the Three Broomsticks. And, per tradition, she asked me to reminisce about the highlights of my twenty-second year.
I still can’t help smiling. What a year it’s been. It was challenging and heartbreaking. But also, blessed and wild and courageous.
My stories were often bookended with anecdotes of comments like, “And that was a big deal for me because…” and “I couldn’t believe I had the guts to do that….” and “Can you believe I said that?!” And I laughed and I swelled and I cried a little bit. (You can do that on birthdays.)
And my beautiful mom sighed. She shook her head, and her eyes got a little misty as she leaned forward and whispered,
“I think you became brave this year.”
My stomach dropped. Me? Brave? Hilarious.
I didn’t even know what it felt like to be brave. Fear was my friend. He was my shadow, the other voice in my head dominating and weighing in on my decisions. Fear greeted me when I woke up in the morning, caught me for coffee midday, snagged dinner with me in the evening, and went to sleep next to me. I already had a companion by the name of “Cowardice.” There was no room for “Courage.”
And when I scoffed and rolled my eyes in the Three Broomsticks, my mother leaned even farther forward until I looked her in the eyes and said, “Remember?” And then she repeated the stories I’d just spun moments before. She listed Europe, and the internship, and “Spring Awakening,” and New York, and the writing conference, and the movie and the hair chop, and the blogging, and the interview, and the business start up, and “Tenor” at the same time as “Spelling Bee,” and the brand new agent. And she sandwiched them inside stories of brave, and jumping outside of my comfort zone.
And when she said it like that, I believed her for a moment.
And then I thought of my Pottermore test, and of the scarlet and gold that flashed on my screen, instead of the navy and silver that I was expecting.
Maybe I used to be Ravenclaw. Maybe outsmarting and outwitting and outdoing used to be my defining characteristics.
But maybe that wasn’t my story anymore. Maybe I was a lionheart. Maybe this past year lead me on a hero’s journey that stretched and challenged me right into the heart of bravery.
Maybe I didn’t need to hide behind books and knowledge to prove what I was worth.
Maybe I didn’t need to adopt an identity just to be an original.
Maybe I needed a House transfer.
Was that even possible?
Friends, I think I might be brave.
Even though I was terrified to write that.
Last night, I ran into my friend Leslie, who, to me, is the picture of bravery. We were at a callback together, and we were asked to choose a harmony to sing. Even though she traditionally sings mezzo or alto, she marched up and sang the first soprano line, and sang pitches that belong in the stratosphere. She was brilliant.
And then, she walked back over to me and said, “You know why I did that?” I shook my head. “Because it scared me to death.”
And that blew my mind. I had never made a decision to do something because it scared me. I did the things that scared me the least. But not Leslie. That’s the story I think of whenever I am lucky enough to see her.
Before Leslie left, I whispered, “Whenever I see you, it reminds me to be brave.”
She laughed at me, shook her head and said, “Being brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. Being brave means the scared doesn’t keep you from doing what you want to do.” Mic drop. And she waved and walked away.
According to Leslie, I can be scared and brave. Being scared does not disqualify me from being brave. What I do with my fear is what categorizes me into brave or not brave.
My mother, JK Rowling, and Leslie think that I am brave. And I’m pretty sure they are some of the wisest beings in all of the land.
So, I will be brave and say, yes.
I am brave.
I am a Gryffindor.
Please raise your butterbeer glasses for a toast.
I will be transferring my navy and silver to red and gold.
But I’m keeping Luna’s pink spectrespecs. Because they’re awesome.