The night before last I had another isolation dream. This time I was in high school trying to do some sort of geometry proofs, and having a difficult time of it. I wanted to call somebody up to ask how it’s done, but I didn’t know anyone to call. I was feeling panicky, not knowing how I was going to complete the assignment. But my performance anxieties were overwhelmed by the impotent rage I felt at being so isolated. I had a sense that I could probably do the proofs if I just stopped looking for help and figured it out. But I was determined to find someone to telephone with whom I could discuss the work, all the while convinced that there was no one. An old friend was there with me; he said he’d call someone he knew and have that person talk to me. But as he’s dialing the phone I’m raving in frustration, to the point where my friend refused to call his friend because he was afraid of how I’d sound in the background.
I’m reading the seventh and final Harry Potter book, my daughter and wife having already whizzed through it. Just past halfway through the book Harry has decided to shift his focus from destroying the archfiend Voldemort to equipping himself with the means of defeating death itself. Legend has it that a wizard can accomplish this impossible feat if he possesses three specific magical objects: one, the Unbeatable Wand; two, the Resurrection Stone that can bring dead people back to the land of the living; three, the Invisibility Cloak, by means of which one can hide from any enemy, including death himself. Harry’s chums, Ron and Hermione, are skeptical: surely this is just a legend, a story to tell the kiddies. But, Harry reminds them, I already own one of the three objects, and you both know it. And they have to agree: Harry’s Invisibility Cloak is the real deal. It always works; its power never fades; it is immune to all counter-charms and spells and hexes.
Let’s say you have an Invisibility Cloak. It hides you from your enemies, from those who would destroy you if they could. It buffers you from interference, allowing you to pursue your private schemes without interference and to hone your skills before putting them to the test. It lets you explore dangerous and forbidden realms without compromising your safety or your reputation. All in secret you’ve amassed a storehouse of arcane knowledge, mastered strange spells, delved into the hidden realms and stolen their secrets. You’re ready to face death himself if need be.
But now, ready to unveil yourself, you discover that your Invisibility Cloak has wrapped itself around you so tightly that you can’t take it off. No one can detect your presence. What you know, what you can do, who you’ve become — hidden. You demonstrate your powers but no one is watching, or maybe they convince themselves it was an accident, or act as if it hadn’t happened at all. It’s as though you’ve become a ghost haunting the world of the living. But even more you’re haunted by it, by its separateness. It’s as if you’re already dead.
Of course you can continue to take advantage of your invisibility, cultivating the kind of uniqueness that only isolation affords, but if no one can ever see you what’s the point? You stop watching, learning, creating, caring — as if you’re already dead. Would you even care if you found the Unbeatable Wand if nobody knew who was wielding it? And instead of bringing people back from the dead, wouldn’t you rather find the magical Stone that can transport the living across the barrier of invisibility so they can see the ghosts of the lonely dead?