All Was Well
by David Ganin
All was well.
–Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pg. 759, U.S. hardback
All of this is true.
Like many others, I was, at first, slightly disappointed in the saccharine closing words of Deathly Hallows. When I read them earlier today, they seemed a little too fairy tale, a little too shallow, for a book that had dealt so realistically with death, sacrifice, and the importance of love in the real world. They seemed too absolute in their assurance of happiness for a book series that had shown the world to be not just a dichotomy of good and evil, but a world as we all know it to be: saturated with shades of gray. But I have come to a new understanding of these words since then.
In addition to the monumental distinction of being the day I finished the seventh Harry Potter book, today was also significant in the fact that it was the one-year anniversary of the death of a friend of mine, Lee Weisbrod. Lee was killed on July 22, 2006, at the age of 19, struck by lightning while leaving a field where he had been playing soccer. As a side note, on Lee;s Facebook page, the first thing listed on his Favorite Books is Harry Potter 1-6. This is a detail that never sank in before: Lee died almost a year to the day before the seventh book was released, and Im sure, like many of us, it was an event he had been looking forward to for some time. Maybe he had looked forward to it for years.
To commemorate the anniversary of his death, Lee’s parents arranged a candlelight vigil tonight at their home. I attended with my girlfriend, who knew Lee even better than I did. They were in the same grade; I played on the tennis team with Lee, and we had many other mutual friends. After we lit the candles and a few people spoke, everyone went inside to sit together and talk, and be with Lee’s parents.
I noticed a scrap book that some of Lee’s friends had made, with personal letters and pictures, memories they had shared with him, and inside jokes. I opened it, and on the very first page, there was a poem. My girlfriend, sitting next to me, told me that she had been the one to send it to Lee’s mother. Obviously, his mother had appreciated it, as it now was laid as part of the beautiful, ornate first page. The poem read:
Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped away
into the next room.I am I,
and you are you;
whatever we were to each other,
that, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name,
speak to me in the easy way
which you always used,
put no difference in your tone,
wear no forced air
of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we shared together.
Let my name ever be
the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect,
without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all
that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you,
for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just around the corner.
All is well.
–Death Is Nothing At All by Henry Scott Holland
I knew immediately that something special had just occurred, but I didn’t know what. I reread the last line again, and chills went through me; I realized what was so remarkable about the poem. This coincidence was so prodigious, so startling to me: I had read nearly the same words just hours earlier, the conclusion to the story of Harry Potter, and now here they were again, speaking to me about the loss of my friend Lee. My girlfriend, noticing my surprise, asked me what was going on. I began to speak, and then stopped myself. I realized she had only finished half the book.
But still, my mind raced. Suddenly, All is well had taken on a new meaning for me. It carried with it all of the emotions of this poem, all the connotations. It was not just a substitute for Happily ever after. It meant that life was meant to be lived! It meant that the sacrifices that had been made by everyone who died to stop Voldemort would be meaningless if the survivors did not find joy and love in their lives, if the peace did not last for decades.
But even more so than giving me some grand revelation about the connection between these words and the themes of the book, or the meaning of death, it most of all filled me with a feeling. It would be impossible for me to fully convey it in words. It was a feeling that there was hope in this world, even in the face of tragedy. I felt hopeful, and happy, and glad that maybe, maybe Lee was smiling with me, sharing in the secret of that moment. And for a split-second, against my better judgment, I even felt like the world made sense.
Jo Rowling has said herself that she made death prominent in these books because we must all learn to deal with the reality of it. She lost her mother just before she began writing the first book. I don’t know if we could find a cohesive thesis about love and death in the Harry Potter story, but I do know that sharing Harry’s grief, and traversing the painful world alongside him, has been a comfort to me. It has not taken away my pain, or made me able to intellectualize the sorrow of death away, but it has helped. It has definitely helped.
And so today I gained a new respect for the Harry Potter series, and I gained a moment of strange but beautiful reflection about a friend as I read a poem that was meant to ease our minds about his death. Somehow, it was all connected, and it was all revealed to me at once, in a manner that I can describe as no less than magical. The symphony that I heard and felt tonight was that rare arrival of a great work of art at precisely the moment we need it in our lives. I am reminded tonight that there is no such thing as fiction. As Dumbledore said, Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?