I have a confession to make. I love Halloween. I have always loved Halloween and becoming an adult has not changed that love one iota. As soon as the season changes to autumn, the pumpkins come out. The orange lights grace my bushes, the funny and not so funny witch faces appear on walls and shelves, vampires and ghosts start to populate my front porch and my piano. I think up costumes for the year because yes I have to be in costume every Halloween. It just is.
When I was young, Halloween was about all of those things but also about the candy. We lived in a very small town in northern Canada in the 60’s and my younger brother and I would roam the town the entire evening stopping at every house holding out our pillowcases until they were so full we had to go home or we would never get the haul back to the house. The next hours (or days) were spent sorting out all of the candy we had gathered and rejoicing. We were good until Christmas! In later years I was delegated to taking my younger sisters out to trick or treat but that did not diminish the love I had for knocking on a door and having treats handed out to us. Or to admire all of the creative costumes people had come up with. There didn’t seem to be real monsters at that time. There was no fear of razor blades in apples or tainted candy. There just wasn’t.
As a young adult, Halloween was always party time. Costumes got more elaborate and fun to imagine. I spent one Halloween in a long red velvet dress, both it and my face covered in soot, convincing everyone I was Scarlett O’Hara after the burning of Atlanta. My southern accent seemed authentic enough but the joy of hiding behind a character was the real thrill. So it is with Halloween. It is the chance to become something other then we are and have fun with it. It’s also a time to scare ourselves with delicious thrills. People can dress or become the most fearful aspects of human nature and still be accepted. Creepy masks and ugly depictions of horror seem to thrill and excite everyone. Perhaps because on every other day of the year these things are taboo. In recent years my Halloween alter ego has been variations of a witch. Maybe I am embracing the crone stage of life but it is more likely that the wish to have some sort of control over events even for a day encourages this magical thinking.
Although Halloween is the time to embrace such things, the truth is we all wear masks. We all have a secret self that we hide from the world. Most of the time that is how we negotiate ourselves through this human experience. It reminds me of the message of that iconic song by The Police “Spirits in the Material World”. We are all trying to navigate this messy, lovely existence the best way we can. But there is no doubt that monsters dwell among us wearing masks that sometimes slip to show their real nature. Mass murderers. Rapists. Predators. Arsonists. Racists. It’s as though something has been pulled back and ugly things are crawling out of the mud to come to light once again. The drawn curtain is revealing our scariest selves. The public masks have been peeled back to reveal the true face of darkness and it is not pretty.
As scary as this all is, perhaps we should recognize an opportunity when we see one. Maybe it’s time to face the ugly side of human nature and try to heal these fissures. Perhaps we have been a bit complacent in the past years thinking that things like racism, sexism and discrimination of all sorts in the workplace, in our community and in our social group were eradicated or it was easier to look the other way or brush off bad behavior as normal when really they were just waiting for the right time to rear up again. Now is that time. Now is the time to really dig deep to decide what each of us believes to be good and true. But it will not be easy. It takes faith and conviction and a whole lot of courage. If we celebrate Halloween just to scare ourselves well we have much more work to fight the demons then just that one day. This year I don’t see the masks and the costumes disappearing on November 1st. It’s not just make believe anymore.
Fast forward 50 years from that small town in the 60’s and I am still trying to figure out what my Halloween costume will be this year. There seems to be such an array to chose from but in reality I know it will reflect some secret part of myself. Warrior Princess Leia from Star Wars? Anne Boleyn still trying to hold onto her head? Esmeralda dancing on the steps of Notre Dame? I have been all of those and more. It’s going to take some time to think about the face I want to show the world this October 31st. I can’t wait to see what comes out.