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The Harry Potter series has done a lot to contribute to my emotional, intellectual, and personal growth. One of the ways in which the Harry Potter universe assisted my maturity is an exercise I developed to see where I was in life and what my priorities were. Whenever I needed to think about what I really, truly wanted out of life, I would quiet my mind for a few minutes, and ask myself, “What would I see right now if I were to look into the Mirror of Erised?”

If you’re not familiar with the Harry Potter universe, the Mirror of Erised, if the name didn’t give it away, is a magical object, which shows whomever gazes into it, the deepest and most desperate desires of their hearts. When Harry Potter, an orphan from infancy, first looks into the mirror, he sees himself with his entire family, parents front and centre, and other relatives smiling and waving to him. His best friend, Ron Weasley, the second youngest of seven children, sees himself outdoing the achievements of all his older brothers.

For the longest time, I was more like Harry when I looked into the mirror. I would imagine this exercise, and when I looked into my own imagined Mirror of Erised, I saw myself with a family that was whole again. I saw my father, looking healthy and vibrant, with no signs of cancer or sickness, my mother, happy and wholesome, rather than alcoholic and emaciated, my sister looking radiant and confident, and myself free of all of the pain and baggage I’ve carried with me because of the history of abuse and pain my teen years brought me.

It was all an illusion of course, my family was never truly that together and functional, but childhood nostalgia is a powerful mind-altering substance, and it still seemed like paradise compared to what I had gone through after my father died. When I looked in my Mirror of Erised though, that image managed to comfort, agonize, and tantalize me. It was a pathetic fantasy, but one that I felt I had to cling to, for the sake of my sanity, to remember what could have been, if only my father hadn’t died, if only my mother hadn’t become an alcoholic, if only my family hadn’t broken apart. All of these variables were to blame, at the core I knew there was something to be done… right?

Tonight, I did the exercise again, sat down, and thought long and hard about what I would see now if I were to gaze into the Mirror of Erised. The portrait of the family that never was and never could be was gone. Nor did I see myself looking slimmer, or with a handsome boyfriend on my arm, wearing a bridal gown, winning a scholarship, or any other number of fantasies relying on “what if”s that I’ve passed through over the years. Tonight when I peered into the mirror, I saw myself pretty much exactly as I was, but with a different physical presence and carriage, as though I were walking with a weight lifted off of my shoulders, tall and proud and strong- I saw myself in the mirror free of the troubles of the past.

There is a “what if” attached to this image. But it’s not a superficial “what if”, like “what if I started a low carb diet again” or “what if I started wearing make-up?” Nor is it an impossible illusion, like “what if my father had never died?” This is something which is achievable: “What if I managed to let go of all of that false hope and all of these false ideals of what a family should look like, and worked with creating a new family out of people who truly loved me, and who would not impede me from building up a positive and uplifting existence for myself?”

In the books, it was said by Dumbledore that people had wasted away in front of  the Mirror of Erised, taunted by what they could never have. But the key to the Mirror ends up being not just knowing what you want, but how you will reach it. I think that I have made a breakthrough in that exercise tonight and done just that.