Living a Thousand Lives | Child + Family Photography | Pekin, IL

 

A READER LIVES A THOUSAND LIVES BEFORE HE DIES... THE MAN WHO NEVER READS LIVES ONLY ONE.

 

Do you know that quote? I have heard it a dozen times, but I could never tell you it was written by George R.R. Martin until today. Could I tell you who George R.R. Martin is? Negative ghost rider. Hard pass. Whoever this Mr. Martin is, however... he was on to something.

I recently started reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. And as the title suggested, it has been life changing. I have such a desire to purge all of my belongings, to be clutter free, to have an open home. I was fairly engrossed in the lifestyle this book proposed. I was prepared to empty my purse every night and thank my possessions for their hard day's work; fold my underwear into cute little squares. I was prepared to start valuing my socks for being constantly walked all over and un-ball them in my drawers. She had me. That is, she had me until Marie Kondo made the offensive error of suggesting I toss out my books.

EXCUSE ME? NEGATIVE GHOST RIDER. HARD PASS. NO. DEFINITELY NOT.  

Marie Kondo has obviously not lived her thousand lives yet. Edward has not broken her heart. Major Anderson has not made her question all the rules. King Henry the VIII has not made her fear for her life. She has not received her letter from Hogwarts. She has not defeated the capital with a handful of berries. I have lived my thousand lives. I remember them. I live them over and over again.

I remember the first time I picked up Harry Potter. I was 11 and on a family vacation in California. My sister and I had just finished our attempt at creating a Day's of Our Lives family tree and the book jacket caught my eye. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was sitting innocently on a little book nook peeping out at me. I picked it up, I glanced through it. Meh. Boy wizard and his school aged adventures? This is a children's book! I am not a child. I am almost a teenager. Pass.

Two years later I found myself in a conundrum at school. Faced with needing a large amount of Accelerated Reader points, I checked what book would take me there the fastest. Low and behold, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was worth 32 points. In comparison everything else I was reading was worth about six points. I thought back to my first encounter with Harry Potter and thought, "Even if it is terrible, it's still half the points I need." I checked it out of our school library and sank fast into the Wizarding World.

By the second chapter, I was a goner. How had I not been interested in this? I would sneak the book under my desk and read it on my lap as inconspicuously as possible throughout Mr. Heston's Language Arts lesson. I walked class to class with Harry Potter clutched in my hands. I came home and went straight to my room to read more. There was this whole world I didn't know existed. There was a boy, the same age as I was. He was struggling. He had true suffering in his life. He had best friends he rowed with but who in the end were passionate about their friendship. He had choices. He made mistakes. When Cedric Diggory died, I died. When Dumbledore told Harry that dark and difficult times lie ahead, I believed him. When Dumbledore said, "Soon you must choose between what is right and what is easy," I felt Dumbledore talking to me, not Harry Potter.

I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 12 times that year. I read that book until it felt like a memory, my own memory. After receiving my very own copy for Christmas, I read that book until the binding fell apart and I had to glue the pages back in. I've lost the cover art at some point in the last ten years. There's food stains, liquid eyeliner stains, tear stains. I put that book through a lot and anxiously waited for Harry’s next chapter.

BUT UNLIKE ANY OTHER READING EXPERIENCE, I HAD TO WAIT FOR THE ENDING TO BE WRITTEN!

Harry Potter couldn't grow up fast enough. And I was growing with him.  

The sixth book released the same day I was leaving for a church trip. I woke up at daybreak. I rode my bike as fast as I could down Lincoln hill, wet wind whipping me in the face. Crossing the rural highway to my very best friend's house, I picked my copy up off of her back porch. It was carefully wrapped in a Kroger bag. A letter was penned out to me on Harry Potter stationary wishing me a happy journey through Harry's next adventure. I peddled as hard as I could to my grandmother's house and sat on her damp wheelchair ramp, opening my new book and smelling its new book pages. I stared at the green mist all over the cover and questioned what secrets this story held. I cradled that book in my hands and for just a moment I felt connected to thousands of 15-year-olds across the country. We were all sitting down with our Harry Potter books, about to ignore everyone and everything for a few days until we had devoured every word. And devour I did. I read that book until it fell apart too.

When the final book released, I waited three hours in line with my neighbor at midnight at Border's Bookstore in Peoria. We chatted with a woman who was crocheting Harry Potter scarves out of sewn in pockets in her robes. Because yes,

AT A MIDNIGHT HARRY POTTER RELEASE PARTY, YOU SHOW UP IN ROBES, WITH A LIGHTENING BOLT COLORED ON YOUR FOREHEAD, WITH YOUR HOUSE COLORS PROUDLY DISPLAYED AND YOUR RADISHES IN YOUR EARS.

I met dozens of people of all ages who had fallen in love with Harry Potter. I took that book into the car, read the inside cover and bawled my eyes out thinking: This is the end. I went home and snuggled into bed and began to read the ending that would take me out of my childhood and into whatever comes next. As I entered chapter four, I realized J.K. Rowling wasn’t going to hold back. She was going to let me feel all the things I was scared of. This brilliant writer had me fall in love with these people that I would never meet, whose lives I would never again cross paths with. This brilliant writer had me fall in love with someone who was never even real.

Do you remember where you were when you fell in love with someone else's story? Do you remember what it felt like to discover that life? To live that life? To grieve that life? Do you remember those events as your own memories? Do you wait for your Hogwarts letter still? Do you get excited when Amazon delivers on a Sunday and tell yourself, "There's no post on Sunday"?

Books shape us into the people we want to be. They inspire us. They enlighten us. They teach us empathy and patience. They teach us to step back and see the whole picture, to analyze. They take us to places we would otherwise never have seen, never have lived. Books transcend generations. They bestow upon us heartaches we never anticipated we could feel. Let’s be honest. If I had to read Derek Shepherd’s death, I probably would not have resurfaced to the general population for at least a week. I mean, I threw New Moon at the wall when Edward left.

But I could never throw those books away. I could never throw away those memories. Those pages are my past, they are my childhood. They are my future. I will never outgrow those stories. They'll be read by my children one day and their children after them. They are my legacy entrusted to me by someone I've never met. But those stories, all of them, have earned their place in my home. Tidy or not.

 Pekin Public Library Offers a "1000 Books Before Kindergarten" Program.
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