Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Horror

At the risk of alienating 90% of the population, I have to say I don't really like Halloween.

I get the fun of costumes and pretending to be someone or something else for a day, especially when those things are brave and noble like a knight or sweet and lovely like a princess. It is a day when a child (or adult's) most grandiose visions of themselves can become a temporary reality. And I think it is good to dream big dreams like that.

I also get the candy. Without question.

And since living in our neighborhood for the last seven years, I have grown to truly appreciate the community that this "holiday" creates. Our neighborhood has thrown a giant street party nearly every year, complete with jump houses and chili cook-offs and ugly cake contests and pumpkin carving competitions. All the neighbors join the festivities and enjoy a night of conversation, camaraderie and fun. It brings out the best in everyone: participation in something bigger than daily life, a communal spirit, a celebration of childhood. It is delightful to walk from house to house with our children, knowing the names of most of the folks who open the door to share in this event with people who have become friends as a result of our common residence.

What I don't like is the ugliness, especially now that I'm witnessing it from the naive eyes of a four and two year old, and especially when I have to anticipate how to answer the inevitable question, "Why?"

Several weeks ago, before my Halloween radar was even activated, we walked into the mall entrance closest to the children's stores in search of shoes for the kids. We were greeted by a Spirit Halloween: there was no way we could avoid it. And right in front of the store--practically in the walkway--was a fully-automated, haggard, ugly, witch-like manequin lying on the floor with an oustretched hand that reached up over and over as she made awful pleas for help.

Ben, of course, asked, "What's that?"

How do you answer this question? What is it? A woman trying to escape unimaginable evil? A woman, evil herself, attempting to lure innocent people into her grasp? A miserable soul, regardless. Yuck. Ben does not even have a frame of reference from which to understand this kind of, albeit pretend, suffering. Nor should he at this point in his life.

I scrambled to come up with an answer and settled on "a creepy doll."

"What's 'creepy'?" he asked.

Again, how do you answer this question? He doesn't know what creepy is--why would he? At this point we were past the store and coming up on the toy vehicles that offer kids a ride when filled with quarters. I think I replied with something like, "yucky or ugly," words that do exist in his vocabulary, and then breathed a sigh of relief when his attention turned to the race car.

To some degree, I've been holding my breath ever since, as we drive through the streets and see light-up zombies peering through windows and skeleton wreaths adorning front doors and giant insects crawling up the sides of houses and cackling witches beckoning from grocery store displays. Each decoration is so innocent in its intention, I believe. But each represents such nastiness. Sometimes I'm amazed that we could glorify death and horror and outright creepiness with such little thought or awareness. What do I do when Ben asks why a person's skull is hanging from a porch? What legitimate answer could possibly satisfy his curiosity? Any casual response will most certainly be followed by "Why?" and then more "Why's", and the answer to some of those why's are far too disturbing to be shared with a four year old navigating the territory of security and fear, literal reality and metaphor, good and bad.

I know no harm is intended by this celebration of the scare. And it's not that I want Ben to waltz through the world thinking everything is happy and light. I think it's that these caricatures of evil represent, on some level, real evil--these scary images and haunting effects are founded in real fear, true horror, awful realities.

We may not be haunted by actual shimmery white ghosts, and we may not encounter zombies or witches in our everyday lives. But many people are haunted by the hurt and horror inflicted by others. Many have skeletons in their own proverbial closets. Many have been cursed by a careless word or flippant comment made in anger or frustration. Many walk the earth resembling a living dead person. The line between fiction and reality is too thin here for my liking. The pain is too real. Perhaps I'm overthinking the whole thing, but I can't bring myself to enjoy its glorification.

So I'm hoping it will be just a matter of days before this ugliness is packed away for another year. In the meantime, I will try to create a day of innocent fun for the kids. Ben will enjoy the neighborhood festivities as a firefighter, his costume matching his father's actual fire-fighting bunker gear. This emulation of valiance I adore. Abby will prance through the street as a ladybug, replete with sparkly tutu, darling polka-dotted wings, and red and black snow boots. We will catch up with the neigbhors, exchange stories about the snow storm and our travails with H1N1, jump in the bounce house, admire the ugly cakes and expertly-carved pumpkins, and generally enjoy being together. We will celebrate community and children and fantasy.

And I will pray that the kids are blind to the creepiness so that I don't have to tackle these very difficult issues. At least for another year.

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