I'm working my way through the Potter books again, as I've mentioned. I'm up to "Prisoner of Azkaban" now. Just finished the bit where Lupin teaches Harry the Patronus charm to ward off the Dementors.
And once again I'm amazed by how expertly Rowling has captured what I believe many of us will think back on as the particular fear-laden spirit of the post-9-11 age. We're living in our little bubble of prosperity, while all around us things fall apart and we face challenges that, realistically, may be all but impossible to overcome.
Even as you try to keep these huge horrors at the periphery of your mind, smaller but equally devastating ones work their way in. Yesterday I got an e-mail from an old friend with a picture of her nephew, who's almost a year old and who wasn't supposed to live more than a few days because something is wrong with his heart. It's the same heart problem that killed this same friend's niece many years ago. That girl, who shared the Peanut's first name, would have been 15 this year.
I look into the eyes of this almost-one-year-old, whose very existence is apparently a miracle, and I think: Expecto Patronum. Because it occurs to me that at this moment, all we've got to go on is hope.
UPDATE: I've decided I should explain what 'Expecto Patronum' is for any of my 1.3 readers who have not read the Harry Potter novels. It's a spell that conjures a Patronus, which is a sort of guardian that protects the witches and wizards of the Potter world against creatures called Dementors who suck all the happiness out of people, leaving them nothing but empty shells. Conjuring the Patronus is extremely difficult to do, and Harry does it at several points in "Prisoner of Azkaban" when it seems that all hope is truly lost.