Dear Jo, An Open Letter to J.K. Rowling

b38a75aec6.pngIt seems weird to be writing you for the first time, because I feel like I have known you for far longer – 20 years to be exact. Even though I haven’t written before, I wanted to take a second to write you now and say two things. The first one of those would be Happy Birthday to both you and to Harry! I hope today is as magical for you as the series has been to me.

The second thing I wanted to say is far less easier to put into words so please forgive me if I ramble- I am far less eloquent with words than you are. It would be impossible for me to truly tell you what the magic of Harry Potter has brought to my life, the lives of my brothers, and so many other people we care about. My only hope with this letter is to give you the smallest of ideas as to how much your world has influenced us in becoming the people we are today.

20 years ago I was a overly dramatic 9 year old who knew nothing about the world of Harry Potter. It was not until 2 years later when the second book came out that a family friend who was an elementary school teacher recommended the book series to me. As 11 year old Harry was introduced to life at Hogwarts I was being introduced to life with him. Over the past two decades I have relished the book release parties, movie premieres, Harry Potter Trivia competitions, quidditch tournaments, and debates about which death was the hardest to take (for the record, I still have not forgiven you for the death of Dobby). I have two sets of the series – my original copies and my updated copies. My original copies are so dog-eared worn that many are falling apart at the seems. Every time I open up the covers of those original copies and see the handwritten notes from my grandmother and great aunt (they bought me most of my originals) it brings a smile to my face.

Just like Harry, there have been ups and downs in my life. I have been through the loss of loved ones, fights with my best friends, first loves, and becoming an adult. The one constant in my life throughout all of that has been the beautifully magical escape that you brought to the world. Growing up as Harry grew up we often faced difficulties at the same time, but there were many times when Harry faced something before I did. Being lucky enough to have all 4 grandparents until the age of 26 I had not experienced the death of someone I loved deeply like Harry had. I struggled at first with his death, but not long after I re-read The Prisoner of Azkaban for the umpteenth time. When I read the quote from Dumbledore below, it changed my outlook and allowed me to move on through my grieving process. you-think-the-dead-we-loved-ever-truly-leave-1

My brothers and I have many similarities and many differences in our lives. Being 4 years older than one and 6 years older than the other we didn’t have very many similar interests all at the same time other than swim team and Harry Potter. Even in our love of Harry Potter we are different from one another. I was sorted into Slytherin. My middle brother was sorted into Gryffindor and my oldest brother was sorted into Hufflepuff. We playfully tease each other about our houses, but when I look the characteristics that make up each of the houses, they oddly match each of us perfectly. My middle brother is strong and has quite a bit of nerve while my youngest brother is kind, loyal, and hardworking. I was originally disappointed with my sorting into Slytherin, but as I have aged two things have changed. With age has come my view that ambition, cunningness, and self-preservation were not traits that had to be viewed as deceitful or negative, but traits that had be used in the right way for the right purpose. Sirius was a shining example of how our life’s choice can define the type of person we become.

 

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As a teacher, Harry Potter speaks to me on another personal level as well. The school I teach at has students who face socio-economic difficult situations on a daily basis. Many students are dealing with situations that would leave me curled up on the floor in the fetal position. But those same students come to school and work hard. In the world you created, education is important and many of my kids know that. I am inspired by them and their accomplishments on a daily basis. It is the reason I get out of bed in the morning and it is the reason I work so hard to make my classroom and my school exactly what Hogwarts was to Harry – a safe, warm, and inviting home that will always welcome them. You have also provided me with the easiest proof of a lesson I have to teach far too often. Many high school students today use profanity far to often. I think it is because it makes them feel grown up or cool. Each time I hear the words used in a flippant manner I always tell my students the same thing: save those words for when you really mean it, because if you use them all the time the word has no weight behind it. When they look at me puzzled all I do is describe the battle of Hogwarts and tell them Mrs. Weasley’s now infamous line. I tell them part of the reason it is so remembered and known is because it is one of the only times I can remember in the series that there is a word that is considered “profanity.” (and if you don’t tell my principal I will secretly tell you that I play the clip for them on YouTube).

In my early twenties, I would have other coworkers or friends who are muggles ask why I was so obsessed with Harry Potter. The verbosity that flowed through my lips was so quick and so loud that I am sure few people could understand what I was saying. After I would calm down and tell them as plain as I could. Harry Potter at this point has been a part of my life longer than he has not. He has taught me many great lessons. And most importantly, he has taken me on a great adventure. When I was done, some people would get it, and some people would not – and that is ok because I don’t need them to understand. I know what it has meant to me, and so does Harry. And that is enough.

Before I go I did want to say one more thing. The world we presently live in is not always the world we wished it was. Sometimes the world we occupy is sad, and frightening, and mean, and cruel, and unjust. If there is one thing the people of Harry Potter have done time and time again it is speak up and speak out against those things. Time and time again I watched the characters of Harry Potter do this. I watched Sirius do it by going against his own family. Neville did it time and time again when he stood up to his friends. Albus Dumbledore did it against the wizarding government. Severus Snape sacrificed his life for it. In addition to these important people, I have watched time and time again as you continue to speak out and speak up against the injustices of our world and those who seek to further it. Watching you speak up against the travesty that is my country’s president at the moment and other important causes has given me and so many others the courage to find our own voice and speak out. You have given us permission to use our voices as our wands to bring light to the darkness and those trapped by it.

After 20 years together saying thank you doesn’t feel like enough. It feels so inadequate, but I have nothing else to give, and I know you wouldn’t want it even if I did. You have given this muggle world far more magic than it sometimes deserves. In  another 20 years you can expect another letter from me to build on this one. God willing, if I live another twenty after that you can expect a third letter. And just like Dumbledore asked Snape, people who don’t understand will look and ask “After all that time?” My response will be the same as the response Severus gave – ALWAYS!

With great love and admiration,

Wynne Boliek

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