I’ve mentioned before that I like fan fiction, a.k.a. fanfic. I haven’t read it all, of course, but between the recommendations that got me started and the various “bookmarks” — works enjoyed by the writers of the things I’ve enjoyed — I’ve followed down the literary rabbit hole, I’ve read a lot of really wonderful things.
One of those things is a work in the Harry Potter “universe”, not yet completed but clocking in at 341,000 words. It’s called “Amends, or Truth and Reconciliation” and it’s how the world looks after the death of Voldemort, told from Hermione’s point of view. And much of that view isn’t pretty, between the things Hogwarts students were being taught during the year Harry, Ron and Hermione were hunting down the Horcruxes, the actions of the Ministry, the institutionalized racism (pureblood vs. half-blood and muggle-born, or when you’re not in polite company, mudbloods), the wins that might actually have been losses when you look at them more closely…
And it uses the original works as the starting point for all of it, of course, but it also raises questions Rowling didn’t answer, either due to time constraints or having so much other story to tell she couldn’t get to it or whatever. That’s one of the things fanfic does: takes something that might have been a throwaway bit of info in the original work and then expands on it, takes it to its logical conclusion, and the conclusion after that, and so on.
The majority of fanfic authors I follow are excellent writers (some I follow less for the artistry of their words than for the stories they tell, but truly poor writing will knock me out of the story and away from that author), and the author of “Amends” is no exception. And every now and then, a phrase will pop out at me and make me stop for a moment and just…think about what it means, not just in the context of the work but in the world at large.
For some reason, on this re-reading, this phrase hit me between the eyes:
“…the lack of appreciation for ordinary comforts.”
And that brings to mind a line or two from Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”: Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone…
The song is about environmental losses, but the line works just as well in other contexts. Like how we do not, perhaps, appreciate our ordinary comforts until we don’t have them anymore.
I want to think I appreciated the life I had before it went to crap, but I’m not so sure now. The extraordinary things, of course, for precisely the reason that they are extraordinary and therefore call attention to themselves: being able to go out of town to see shows, whether a house concert halfway up the coast or a show in a casino showroom or a turnaround to NYC to see a she and surprise the daylights out of a friend at the same time. Of course I appreciated all those!
But I don’t think I truly appreciated a host of other things. I will not call them lesser things, because they are not. But they were smaller and quieter, in a sense, and so more easily overlooked.
Maybe I didn’t fully appreciate having my own bed in my own room in my own home until I was sleeping on a friend’s sofa while she was out of town, or on a cot in a cold-weather shelter, or in the back seat of my car, or in a dormitory in a homeless shelter.
I do now.
Maybe I didn’t fully appreciate having space to store things until almost everything I owned was in storage, and the rest was in the trunk of my car and I was living out of two drawers in the shelter.
I do now.
Maybe I didn’t fully appreciate a full-sized refrigerator with a frost-free freezer, and therefore being able to go to the grocery store and buy what caught my fancy because it wasn’t going to spoil in a few days, or pop it into the freezer which was not, ever, a solid block of ice.
I do now.
Maybe I didn’t fully appreciate the opportunity to take a bath or shower whenever I wanted, until I was in the shelter and showers were nighttime activities and I had to hope I didn’t sleep restlessly during the night and wind up with ridiculous bed-hair, since the best I could do was dampen it and keep my fingers crossed it didn’t look too horrible the rest of the day.
I do now.
I do now. I appreciate my ordinary comforts because now I know how ephemeral they can be.