A few times – not often, but I can definitely recall specific instances – I have had the extraordinary experience of seeing the shimmer of a person’s spirit in their face. It is a powerful reminder of how much about another human being is beyond, and beneath, what we can see.
Two years ago, I wrote about seeing sparkles behind my eyelids as I fell asleep. Now I understand that I was catching sight of the caverns of my own spirit for the first time. I wrote of sensing inside my head and heart “an expansive space, a black sky speckled with constellations whose forms I don’t yet know how to read.” And I have had the immense privilege of glimpsing what Catherine Newman calls the “hidden geode glittering” inside another person a few times.
This has been on my mind because I recently re-read Phillip Pullman’s marvelous book The Golden Compass. My father gave me the trilogy many years ago, and I devoured it, and for some reason I’d been feeling the tug lately to reread. I very rarely re-read, but for some reason I did so. Once again I was transported by the story, by the narrative, by the human and yet extraordinary character of Lyra and, perhaps most of all, by the device of daemons.
In the world of The Golden Compass, every human being is accompanied by an animal called their daemon. This animal, the physical manifestation of a person’s spirit, is governed by a set of rules. It cannot get further than a certain distance away from its human. It cannot be touched by any other person. And, most fascinatingly to me, the daemons of children can shift their shape, from one kind of animal to another. Adults’ daemons, however, are fixed, and as the child grows up the daemon selects an animal and settles on it. This parable of maturation has all kinds of ramifications, and when I think of it I feel both a hint of sadness and a tinge of truth.
The daemons have already reminded me, a bit, of Harry Potter’s Patronus. It takes effort, skill, and dedication to conjure a Patronus, as well as maturity. Not just anyone can do it. The form that a Patronus takes is unique to the individual.
I realize now that the reason I love both daemons and the Patronus is that they are examples of the spirit made manifest. They are Pullman’s and Rowling’s version of that glimmer I’ve seen in peoples’ faces. And I love knowing that others (in particular others that I so esteem) recognize the same thing I sometimes see, and wonder if I’ve imagined. I haven’t. I will keep looking for it, everywhere I go.
Have you ever seen the shimmer of someone else’s spirit in their face? Do you know Phillip Phillman’s The Golden Compass? Do you love Harry Potter as I do?
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