Is Harry Potter real? The 3,000+ people who attended the recent Leakycon conference in Orlando think so! In honor of our daughter Esther, the conference provided plane tickets and hotel rooms so that our family could go. We also went to the premiere of the final film with some VIPs where Esther's brothers seemed a tad confused that complete strangers knew their names. Everyone at the conference was given a This Star Won't Go Out bracelet and I usually found a way to mention to the wearer that I was Esther's dad! We were witnesses to love in action.
The "fandom" as it's called, is huge and has made a gigantic imprint for good on the lives of this generation. It was Esther's world so we tried to give her space to make friends and be herself. Now that she is gone, her friends have become our friends. No surprise there. And they are awesome. They know how to give hope and accept one another. They are eager to show compassion and love without restraint. They know how to tell a story and they know how to celebrate life! They proved that by rocking out last Saturday night during the "Esther Earl Rocking Charity Ball." The ball ended with chants of "Esther! Esther! Esther!" She was also remembered at three other events there, one of which was when I read from the first chapter of my Esther book. About 75 people came. I cried. They cried. We all hugged.
Esther loved the Potter saga. She especially loved the characters. My wife wrote perfectly about this very thing in the wonderful and recently released book, "Dear Mr. Potter" by Lily Zalon (see Lori's letter below). Harry's life seemed very familiar to us. Like Him, Esther was a flawed, but good and pure soul who had to make regular decisions about loyalty, being true to one's calling and resolving to confront evil. Hers was a great story! With the help of many amazing and wonderful friends (some pictured above) she chose the way of courage and the way of love. So, is Harry Potter real? Was Esther real?
Dear Lovers of all things Harry Potter:
Harry Potter saved Esther. He filled her world with stories, peopled her life with friends, and magically knit her into a community.
Picture a nine year old girl, flyaway blond hair and freckles framing her sunny disposition, curled up in the backseat of a van on a cross-country trek from Boston to Southern California. And barely a peep for three days as she and her sister read hot-off-the-press Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Buying two hardcover copies was well-spent money! Esther had followed right after big sister Evangeline in her love for all things Harry Potter, reading and re-reading each volume, hours of discussion over their theories and expectations of characters and story-line.
We moved to France, and Esther discovered Harry and the Potters online. And we discovered she had cancer: thyroid, already metastasized to her lungs. Surgery led to treatment, and finally brought us back to Boston and Children’s Hospital. In December 2008 we nearly lost her. During the months of recuperation the Internet became her window to the world. She found out about LeakyCon, scheduled for May just a few miles from our house. Esther wanted to be strong enough to go. She got a wig, and we mustered resources and chaperones so she could venture, oxygen tank in tow, into the real life world of wizardry, Nerdfighters, youtubers, and the HP Alliance. Her real and online worlds had coalesced!
In Harry Potter’s world evil is tangible, and life is about training to fight it. Children can be heroes and their youth never limits them. Obstacles are challenges, and defeat makes us stronger. As the stories unfold it becomes clear that the darkest battles must be fought within ourselves—and are overcome only as we cling tightly to each other. Esther embraced these truths and filled her days with loving and being loved.
In the end, even Harry’s magic couldn’t stop Esther’s cancer. On August 25, 2010, her tired lungs finally rested. But the stone that rests on the earthly place where we remember our Star shares the message Esther lived for 16 years: “Love is Stronger than death.”
So thank you for your stories, JK Rowling. Thank you for teaching us we can be heroes, Harry. And thank you, each and every friend, for loving Esther. You gave her courage and hope and friendship. She gave us back love and light. “Lumos!”