MCHENRY: Be who you can’t be

The best Halloween costumes don’t exist. Case in point: In fourth grade, I was a Ravenclaw.

Before this goes on, I’d like to point out that, in the entirety of the Harry Potter series, there are no important male characters in Ravenclaw. Roger Davies, Marcus Belby and Michael Corner weren’t mentioned until at least book four, and even then, who wants to be known for hitting on Fleur, having a famous uncle or snogging Ginny Weasley?

This made the early 2000s rather hard being for an aspiring male know-it-all. Harry and Ron are, obviously, idiots. No little boy, no matter how hot Emma Watson became, succeeds in elementary school if he’s called Hermione (as if Cho Chang or Luna Lovegood are better role models).

But, one day, I came up with a solution: Invent a Ravenclaw. On Oct. 31, I went door to door in a blue polo shirt (hey, it seemed British!), a pair of khakis and a handmade eagle insignia. There also may have been a twig that stood in for a wand, but it didn’t make into the night’s pictures.

I don’t remember how much candy I earned, inevitably less than my brother, but I do remember being incredibly proud of my accomplishment. I got to tell people that I was a Ravenclaw and, mysteriously, I became one. Of course, no matter how hard I tried, Jackson McHenry, Ravenclaw prefect, Quidditch star and number one at Potions (because, come on, someone has to be good at it!) would never work his way past the Sorting Hat. But, on Halloween, I was that Jackson McHenry. J.K. Rowling couldn’t stop me from inventing what I wanted to exist.

Astute writers of valedictory speeches will probably realize that now is the perfect time to segue with Gandhi’s famous line, “Be the change you want to see in this world” (and I just did, so there) because that’s what Halloween seems to allow you to do.

But that’s not true. Halloween isn’t about becoming what you want to be; it’s about becoming what you cannot be.

At the bottom of my heart, I never really wanted to be a Ravenclaw, because I knew that I never would be. Sure, you could argue that in the past couple of years I did realize that fourth-grade dream by going to Yale — true intellectual curiosity, a magical sort of passion and lots of pretty stone buildings, yadda yadda yadda. But please, I’m not seeing any flying broomsticks, house elves, or Divination classes (yes, I tried Bluebooking them; no, I’m not ashamed to admit that).

Even if I could, I doubt I would I want to sacrifice seven years of my life to a British boarding school with awful health and safety records. Would I enjoy having my identity determined by talking headwear? Being bullied by Slytherins? Having to deal with Snape? Probably not. But on Halloween, it’s still fun to pretend.

There is something powerful about assuming an identity you won’t have. Even the most blasé of Halloween costumes, Mean Girls, sexy animals or political talking points, allow you to become someone who is fundamentally not you.

Buried behind all the home invasion and binge eating, Halloween is actually a wonderfully innocent embrace of escapism, something that, by college age, is less and less possible. College is supposedly marked by opportunity, but even a year in, I know that there are classes that I can’t take, majors I won’t enroll in (damn prereqs!) and versions of Jackson McHenry that will simply never exist. Even if I wouldn’t enjoy being an Olympic athlete, a virtuoso violinist or even a student at Hogwarts, it’s too bad to know that, by now, I couldn’t be.

I like my life the way it is. I want my life the way it is, but every once and a while, I want to break the rules, to be a doctor without going to medical school, a politician without an election or a ghost without dying. It’s fantasy — achieving what most people dedicate their lives to with 15 minutes of work and a trip to Salvo. It’s wrong — reducing a politician’s candidacy to a single sound bite joke (Big Bird outfits, I’m looking at you). It’s ridiculous — there are no boys in Ravenclaw!

It’s Halloween.

Jackson McHenry is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact him at jackson.mchenry@yale.edu .

Comments

  • candide

    this is just fantastic. your harry potter knowledge is clearly nuanced and sophisticated.