We’ve all been there. The moment when you realize your day might not be panning out the way you had planned while brushing your teeth that morning. Your boss finds a flaw in that report you’ve been working on for weeks; your teacher hands back that “A” paper you slaved away over for hours with a big red “C” at the top, and it’s like someone’s hit you in the stomach. Wherever you are in life, no one is safe from these instances of “Oh… oh, no.” And in these moments, many a time I try to think about what Harry Potter would do.
As someone who grew up alongside the series, staying up all night on the date of each new book release to satisfy my seemingly very prolonged craving for literature only Potter could fulfill, Harry has just sort of fallen into that “role model” category for me. Countless times throughout the books we see Harry thrown, no, hurled at the speed of light (okay, maybe “thrown” would have sufficed) into situations that a) are a complete surprise, and b) he has no control over. A lot of what has happened to Harry, and I think many would agree, is — to voice the bare minimum — unfair. And in my opinion, this is the largest life lesson of all in J.K. Rowling’s amazing books; or at least to me, anyway.
One scene in particular sticks out to me, and in this instance I’ll recap it straight from the movie since I think there’s a large reason why they decided to include it; and not only just include it but also designate this as the opening scene. The scene is from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and it is the complete first five minutes of the film. We open up to Harry, looking bloody and beaten, as his photograph is being taken by what we Muggles would refer to as “paparazzi.” Harry’s eyes look glazed over, un-phased by the many interviewers and cameras and all of the flashing and commotion. From the audio, we can pick up on the fact that Harry’s mind is not there; it is wandering through thoughts of sadness. Things that have happened to him, that he was unable to control; the death of Sirius Black, Harry’s only true remaining family.
Now, this first minute of the film to me portrays all of the things I touched on above – that uncontrollable, unfair things happen to Harry. But… so what? Terrible and uncontrollable things happen to people all the time, both in the Muggle world and the wizarding world (think of Fleur and Bill’s completely ruined wedding from Deathly Hallows). I think what fascinates me about Harry’s story is both the quantity of these uncontrollable, terrible things that have happened to him throughout his entire life and also that his experiences are constantly under the scrutiny of the media (i.e., the constant and ever-annoying paparazzi mentioned above, Rita Skeeter, etc). More importantly, however, I am completely in awe of the way that Harry has reacted to this life and these circumstances he’s been dealt. Harry has not only had to react to these unfortunate situations and learn to cope with them and move on, but he’s also had to do it from inside a “fishbowl,” with millions of people watching his every move through various wizarding media and communication. He is , after all, the Boy Who Lived.
Let’s move on to about the third minute of the film, where we’re introduced to Harry reading a copy of the Daily Prophet in a café in a train station in England. To me, this is the portion of the scene I find most important, partly because it’s something I think most Muggles can relate to and partly because I think it represents something very simple yet unattainable for Harry at the time. Harry, while reading the Daily Prophet, is approached and “flirted with” by his waitress. She catches a glimpse of his paper and asks, “Who’s Harry Potter?” Harry’s response is I think both driven by his attempt to protect the sanctity of the wizarding world from Muggles and his desire to have a “normal life.” Harry replies with “Oh, no one. Bit of a tosser, really.” The waitresses then goes on to let Harry know she’ll be off work at eleven. At that moment Harry looks out across the platform, and like clockwork, there’s Dumbledore ready to throw him into his next “obligatory” moment.
Things like this happen constantly throughout the book to Harry, yet he seemingly rarely complains. He is calm (for the most part) and almost just accepts that things are the way they are and reacts to them while staying true to himself. He notices the waitress on the train station platform waiting for him to pick her up but doesn’t say anything before Apparating away with Dumbledore to (at that moment) an unknown location for an unknown reason. Everything that ever had the ability to work against Harry in the books did, but he was extremely self-disciplined throughout it all and approached things both logically and calmly (most of the time). Harry never broke; he never stopped, he never quit, and he rarely (if ever) complained about the things that were happening to him. He never tried to over-dramatize what happened to him and was always just looking for the next step, the next answer to the problem at large. He paid no attention to “temptations” (the media, Rita Skeeter) and buying into his fame and rarely ever had moments of self-centeredness.
Harry’s been through it all: true pain, loss, hurt, negativity, even some school bullying and physical injuries like broken bones. He’s been dealt circumstances that merit strength past his years and has handled each the best way he knew how, all the while staying true to himself. He has remained logical and fair, even while being surrounded by the most unfair of life’s offerings. And that’s what I admire most about him; he’s had this wonderful ability to not get “caught up” in it all. He’s never played victim or even so much as complained; he’s done the best he could with what he’s had, and that’s that. Harry is someone who has truly “rolled with the punches” and someone I will think of every time my boss decides two weeks’ worth of work is due on his desk in two hours or when something unexpected happens in my personal life. And although the challenges we may face in our daily Muggle lives may not seem to be quite as serious or scary as Harry’s, this does not mean we do not also experience pain, loss, bullying, or broken bones. So when things are starting to seem a little terrible and uncontrollable, I’ll just ask myself, “What would Harry Potter do?”