Original piece written on July 1st, 2019.
I can finally see the thestrals.
Even though I was an avid lover of the Harry Potter series throughout my early childhood and teenage years, I never gave thestrals, the characters they concerned, nor the implications of their attributes much serious thought…
That is, until today, when I watched my grandmother pass away before my very eyes.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with thestrals, they are fictional, mythical creatures from the Harry Potter book [and movie] series, first introduced in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. J.K. Rowling wrote them such that a person can only see them once they’ve watched someone else die.
These creatures are portrayed as being “spooky” and “grotesque” in aesthetic, yet kind and gentle in nature. More importantly, Rowling conceptualized “the thestral” with the intent of it existing as a living, breathing, beautiful, and mythological symbol of Death.
Despite the fact that I’ve had my issues with her in recent years (both with her behavior as an author and a human being), even I have to acknowledge that she accomplished something pretty spectacular here with her invention of the thestrals.
You see, I realize now that with a few clever flicks of her quill, J.K. Rowling fashioned a species whose magic and importance extends beyond the pages of her books, and deep into the real world of her readers.
In the same way her fictional characters could only see thestrals after witnessing Death firsthand, Rowling’s readers can only truly understand them after experiencing that same, painful phenomenon.
I was sitting in the car this afternoon, scorching in the ever-unbearable and always-notorious Arizona summer heat, when it suddenly struck me that just this morning, I saw Death for the very first time. Furthermore, I even went so far as to touch it when I held my grandmother’s hand, stroked her hair, and kissed her forehead in the initial fifteen [or so] minutes after she passed away.
As far as final moments go, my grandmother’s could not have been more beautiful, sensible, miraculous, dignified, or majestic. In realizing that, it occurred to me that there are far worse ways to start “seeing” the thestrals, and even though the implications of witnessing Death firsthand are extremely complicated, I wouldn’t trade the honor of being there with her as she passed away for literally anything in the world.
Still, I watched Death take another human being from this world for the very first time in my life today.
I comprehend now that those characters in the Harry Potter series who could see the thestrals, such as Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, Rubeus Hagrid, and Albus Dumbledore were not random selections on Rowling’s part. In fact, they were [essentially] the most peculiar, enigmatic, enlightened, and isolated folks in the entire, seven-part narrative. After the events of this morning, I’m forced to believe that their individual experiences of witnessing Death played a significant role in that.
I also recognize that the year Harry was finally able to see thestrals for the first time was not coincidental. Those who could see them were wise beyond their years, and filled with an exquisite darkness, knowledge, and strength that I could never quite put my finger on before today. Cedric’s death transpired right around the time Harry required that type of personal transformation in order to save the world from Lord Voldemort, the Harry Potter universe’s own, human[-like] embodiment of evil.
In the case of the renowned Mr. Harry James Potter, he began to see thestrals only after he witnessed the murder of his pure-hearted peer, Cedric Diggory, towards the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In turn, he lost his mortal, youthful innocence forever ([deliberately] similar to how J.K. Rowling simultaneously and irrevocably stripped away the childhood innocence of the series in the immediate aftermath of Cedric’s untimely death). This experience elevated Harry to new heights, and he quickly grew emotionally distant from those closest to him, those who had never seen Death face-to-face as he had.
In the year following Cedric’s death (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), Harry adjusted to his newfound [and unsolicited] insight into “the other side,” and became brooding and peculiar in a way which exceeded the inborn tendencies that came with his being “The Chosen One.”
Death changes life as we know it and, more importantly, it changes people.
Furthermore, the actual sight of it is capable of transforming us forever, likely even in ways which remain with us in all our human lifetimes to come. Death cannot be unseen; the encounter with that which is so ethereal becomes ingrained in both our human and spiritual consciences.
Is this a bad thing?
Do I feel completely different after seeing Death, touching it, and breathing it in?
Once you see beyond the simplicity of the human existence, there’s no looking back.
Thus, I’m changed now. I understand Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, Rubeus Hagrid, Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter, and all their fellow veterans in knowing the vision of Death [versus the mere illusion of it] in a way I never did [or possibly could have] before today.
That’s an innocence I’ll never get back for the rest of my life.
And, to be honest, that’s perfectly alright with me.
There is beauty and serenity in death. The thestrals, which most would find morbid and daunting on first sight [as Harry did], are anything but grotesque. They are grim, and dark, for those well-accustomed to mortal perception, but they are also just as soulful, lovely, and loving as life itself.
Thestrals are not terrifying in the slightest.
Rather, they are mysterious, gloomy, splendid, and even soothing once you come to fathom them. The issue isn’t them.
The fear of them is entirely ingrained in the fact that human beings generally don’t do well with grasping the unknown; therefore, thestrals are terribly misunderstood creatures. This is an aspect of our more primitive nature that never ceases to baffle me.
Luna: “They’re called thestrals. They’re quite gentle really, but people avoid them because they’re a bit–“
Harry: “Different. But why can’t the others see them?”
Luna: “They can only be seen by people who’ve seen death.”
There can be no life without death, nor can there be death without life.
This pairing is among the most natural we, as human beings, will [or can] ever know in our corporeal lifetimes. And, what could ever be more divine than the natural order of the cosmos?
Thestrals are death; they are the very embodiment of its essence. Yet, there’s honestly nothing dark about them in the grander scheme of the universe.
Today is July 1st, 2019…
And, today is the day I can finally see the thestrals.
Header Image (cropped): Taken from aminoapps.com (“Thestrals – A Lesson #ClassChallenge,” by Aurora Allyn)
GIF: Taken from aminoapps.com (“Thestrals,” by s i m o n e).
Image 1: Taken from scifi.stackexchange.com (“Why are thestrals not a threat to humans?”)
Image 2: Owned by Ami J. Sanghvi
Image 3: Taken from evilgeeks.com (“Your Weekend Creature Comforts: Thestrals,” by Lilith Assisi)
Image 4: Taken from flickr.com (“Thestral,” by Shen Stone)
Dialogue: Taken from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (the movie)