The Cupboard Under the Stairs

Two Saturdays ago I was part of a Leadership Panel for the local Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter GIRLS (Girls Inspiring Respect, Leadership, and Service) Academy, a day-long retreat for 5th and 6th grade girls. Each panelist responded to questions like, “How did you get where you are today?” and “If you could offer advice to your 5th or 6th grade self, what would it be?” Then, the girls asked questions, among them, the ubiquitous, “If you could travel anywhere in the world, were would it be?” (South Africa)

Part of my response to the “from-there-to-here” question was, “Read books. And lots of kinds of books.” Shortly after, I watched a girl with red hair and freckles work up the courage to ask, “What one book would you recommend we all read?” My answer was spontaneous and obvious. Harry Potter.

Late last night, I finished Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. Brown loves JK Rowlings’ Harry Potter series, too, and writes about it a couple times in her latest. When struggling to convey new, research-supported ideas, Brown imagines Rowlings’ voice saying, “Give us the stories that make up that universe. No matter how wild and weird the new world might be, we’ll see ourselves in the stories” (4). The second time as an example of connection through collective pain, Brown describes the scene from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when the Hogwarts staff and student body, gathered around Dumbledore’s body, raise their wands to dispel the dark mark. “Wands Up” (124,5).


Both Brown’s observations are relevant to the project, but a couple pages early in her book prompted me to even more reflection on Harry Potter and Little Free Pantry. Brown writes about how not belonging in one’s family “is still one of the most dangerous hurts,” having “the power to break our heart, our spirit, and our sense of self-worth” (14).  A page later she writes, “Sometimes the most dangerous thing for kids is the silence that allows them to construct their own stories—stories that almost always cast them as alone and unworthy of love and belonging” (15). One of three outcomes then occur. 1. Numbing or inflicting pain. 2. Denial and passing on of pain. 3. Courage and empathy (14).

The Dursleys kept Harry Potter in a cupboard under the stairs. The series inspires not because Harry, “The Chosen One,” defeats Voldemort. It inspires because for Harry outcomes 1 or 2 are most logical. Instead he is sorted into Gryffindor, a house known for its courage, and as Horcrux, he embodies empathy with the one most responsible for both his individual pain and his world's collective pain; he literally understands and shares Voldemort’s feelings. In Order of the Phoenix, just after Belletrix Lestrange kills Harry's godfather, Sirius BlackHarry says to Voldemort, “You're the one who is weak. You will never know love or friendship. And I feel sorry for you.” Harry escapes the cupboard under the stairs.

Little Free Pantry is another cupboard, and I like to think it offers another counter-story to those who see themselves as alone and unworthy of love and belonging. In a world where numbing or inflicting pain and denial and passing on of pain are increasingly normalized, I am certain it is a weird, wild, new space calling all who interact with it to courage and empathy. 

My advice? Read books. Have courage, girls. Pantries Up. 

Dumbledore's Army Forever