What a Hogwarts mug taught me about the importance of memories

I’m sitting with my cat on my lap and warm coffee in my Hogwarts mug. It’s a Friday morning after an 11-hour day at work Thursday, and the caffeine hasn’t hit my system yet, but its heat is soothing.

I look fondly at the four Houses embellished in gold on the black ceramic mug in my hand, and I think of the day I got it. It was last October, when I had visited quite possibly the most magical place I’ve literally ever been in my life: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The mug is abominable at effectively holding in heat for longer than 20 minutes, and it’s not microwave safe, which means I have to pour my coffee into another mug in order to nuke it, and then 30 seconds later pour it back into the Hogwarts mug. I have to do this about every 20 minutes until my coffee is gone, but I use it anyway because it brings me joy.

Every time I look at the coats of arms on the mug, I’m reminded of a different time — one without a pandemic, without smoke, without heartache. I’m reminded of the thrills of Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures roller coaster, of the appreciation I felt for all the artists who worked meticulously to perfectly craft the buildings of Hogsmeade, and of the sweet, creamy taste of butterbeer on my tongue. I’m reminded of Florida’s stickiness as we walked out in the humid sun, and then the contrast of the wash of cool air as we stepped into the terminal for the Hogwarts Express. I remember the wonder I felt as I walked through the castle itself, even the hours of lines for the rides seeming but minutes because we were so enchanted by the attention to detail as we walked through Dumbledore’s office, or across hallways with talking pictures and floating candles.

It was the closest you could come to actually being in that world of witchcraft and wizardry, and the sense of magic, even now, gives me goosebumps.

I often try not to dwell too much on the past. I let the good times sink into my bones and find stillness. I learn what I can from the bad, and then discard the negativity like clothes that are no longer useful to me. Mostly, I keep my gaze fastened ahead and take life one step at a time, because it’s in the present that I find clarity.

But you know what I’m learning now, amidst a pandemic and a million other things going wrong with the world?

Clarity can come from the past too. Yes, it can come from healing trauma, but it can also come in the little whimsical memories we hold close to our hearts that remind us of simpler times, and keep us going. Those memories are what can help give us stamina, keep us putting one foot in front of the other as we hope for an easier time when we can feel the joy we know we’ve felt before again. Sometimes, we need those memories, if only to distract from the pain or confusion or anger of the now, because those memories might be one of the few lighthearted things we can access.

I might not usually try to dwell on the past, but right now, I’m certainly focusing on being grateful for it. I’m giving myself permission to sit in the wanting of what that past felt like — the past of dreaming and of simplicity and of magic; not only of Hogwarts, but of the people I spent that time with, too.

I’m learning that it’s okay to miss the past, you see. And to dream wistfully of its return. Or at least, a slightly different manifestation of its return in the future. Because those dreams are one of the little seeds that plant hope and help to give us meaning.

“Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” -Kevin Arnold

This week, I ask that you sit in the memory of what the past felt like — in any memory that comes to you in which you can feel in your bones that it was good. Cherish that time you were so full of joy. Close your eyes, and remind your body of the feeling of that memory, the time that you miss.

Perhaps it was almost a year ago, like mine. Perhaps it was just last week. What did it smell like? What did the food you ate or the things you drank taste like? What did the air feel like on your skin, and what gave you a sense of wonder? Were you alone, or with some people you love? Walk through this memory as though retracing your steps down a much-loved path, and genuinely try to recall the feeling of it.

It’s important to honor these memories, because they’re part of a life that was the forming of you. When it can feel like we’re just walking through life in a daze (and through quite literal smoke clouds), allow yourself the pleasure of dazing intentionally. Let your bones sink into the moment as your mind sinks into the past, and remember that this time and this struggle is but a moment of many more moments to come. Better moments. Moments of richness and life and fervor.

We’re not hopeless. Not yet. And there is much work still to be done. Some days, it’s important to think on that work, and to take comfort in the fact that things will get better. Other days, we must think of the past, and be swept away by the sort of imagination that, as children, was once so familiar. Allow beauty to seep into your life, and allow yourself the pleasure of delighting in what has brought you joy.

There has been, and continues to be, so much goodness in the world. Keep marching to find it, my friends. Be warriors of the light — even if it means waging war on the darkness with a cat on your lap and a Harry Potter mug in your hand on a gray Friday afternoon. You can do this.

My name’s Julia. I’m a writer, and these are my COVID-19 weekly letters of encouragement.

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