Why Halloween

I think Halloween is an underappreciated Holiday. Not in every way. It’s many people’s favorite, because how fun to dress up, etc. But I mean what Halloween is actually about–the stuff of life behind the Holiday that the day puts us in touch with, even if accidentally and only a little bit.

“The farther we’ve gotten from the magic and mystery of our past, the more we’ve come to need Halloween.”

Paula Curan

If you’ve seen Coco or The Book of Life, you can picture the colorful festivity of Día de Muertos, Mexico’s Day of the Dead. You may not be as familiar with Samhain (pronounced “Saa-win”), the Gaelic Holiday, or Zhongyuan Jie, the Chinese Ghost Festival.

When I was a kid, we didn’t celebrate ghosts and witches and goblins and ghouls on Halloween. We talked instead about how it was “All Hallows’ Eve,” the prelude to “All Saints’ Day.” Which turned out not to be much different. A day for remembering dead people . . . which means thinking about death . . . which means facing fear . . . and the unknown . . . and danger . . . and the stories of life and of death.

Much like Halloween.

What’s it all about?

“Always the same but different . . . every age, every time. Day was always over. Night was always coming. . . . afraid . . . that the sun will never rise again . . . all the men in history staring round about as the sun rose and set. Apemen trembled. Egyptians cried laments. Greeks and Romans paraded their dead. Summer fell dead. Winter put it in the grave. A billion voices wept . . . Then, with cries of delight, ten thousand times a million men welcomed back bright summer suns which rose to burn each window with fire! . . . People vanished forever. They died, oh Lord, they died! But came back in dreams. Those dreams were called Ghosts, and frightened men in every age. . . . Night and day. Summer and winter . . . Seedtime and harvest. Life and death. That’s what Halloween is, all rolled up in one. Noon and midnight. Being born. Rolling over, playing dead like dogs . . . And getting up again, barking, racing through thousands of years of death each day and each night Halloween . . . every night, every single night dark and fearful until at last you made it and hid in cities and towns and had some rest and could get your breath. And you began to live longer and have more time, and space out the deaths and put away fear, and at last have only special days in each year when you thought of night and dawn and spring and autumn and being born and being dead. And it all adds up. Four thousand years ago, one hundred years ago, this year, one place or another, but the celebrations all the same: The Feast of Samhain, The Time of the Dead Ones, All Souls’, All Saints’, The Day of the Dead, El Dia De Muerte, All Hallows’, Halloween.”

Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree

Once upon a time, winter was sort of a season of death, of fear. When Autumn came, you harvested the food and prepared to hibernate. Life and growth would soon be put on hold. Then the nights grew longer, the cold came, and you braced. Hibernated. Hoped. Waiting for life to come back in the spring.

And then, as Bradbury described, we as a species learned to thrive straight through the winter with cities and towns lit by electricity, warm houses, warm offices, warm cars. Freshly grown food shipped in a matter of days from the other side of the globe where the sun was still shining.

So we live longer. And we don’t have to fear death as frequently. We don’t have to fear the dark quite so much, or the seasons, or the cold. Life isn’t put on pause for several shivering months, and we aren’t reminded quite so strongly of our mortality.

But still, once a year, this season comes around . . . and we talk again about spooky things like death and fear and darkness. We keep some of the stories, some of the ghosts, some of the hauntings, some of the magic. And–most of all–we dress up as Iron Man or Pikachu and gorge ourselves on candy. So good, so fun, so absolutely worthwhile.

What of the ghost stories? People now tend not to believe in ghosts quite like people did hundreds or thousands of years ago. Or magic. Or monsters. Or omens. Or bad luck. (Actually, maybe yes–bad luck.) We understand the scary noises in the dark, we understand how dreams work, and hallucinations. We have light switches that can suddenly explain the secrets the shadows held, once upon a time.

So why do we still celebrate? What draws us in? Halloween and all its spookiness and darkness still intrigue us.

I think because we’re still mortal. And we can’t help but pay attention to the reminders of our mortality. And because we desperately need stories of darkness, because we desperately need stories of overcoming the darkness. Not for the same reasons we did a thousand years ago. For different reasons now.

We’re not likely to starve if the winter runs too long, or to get frostbite. But when January comes around, a huge number of us fall into seasonal depression. We just have different kinds of darkness that haunt us now. Less magical, more . . . . . modern.

And it’s not so much about winter, just as winter and death were never truly synonymous. Winter was just the reminder of the fear and danger and death and struggle in the cycle of life. We still have that life cycle. It looks, feels, and sounds more modern now. But we still have it. We still have the bad stuff happen. We still feel the darkness, the fear. We still worry–a lot–maybe more than people have ever worried, now that we’re all confronted every day with every story to worry about all around the globe.

There are still monsters. And we still need stories.

Stories that allow us to feel the darkness. And stories of making our way safely through the darkness to the other side. Stories to help us be brave. Stories that give us hope.

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Neil Gaiman

Imaginative stories of ghosts and goblins and exorcisms and aliens and witches and hauntings and spooky cabins in the woods . . . they do that. They let us feel all the dark feelings, and then let us get to the other side–usually with the story’s hero still intact.

We’ve all got the darkness, the fears, the struggles.

As we grow up and out of our imaginations, we try to turn off the feelings, deny the darkness, suppress the struggles. We can’t imagine opening up about what’s inside of us, facing our demons. We’re afraid that if we look inside, we won’t be able to handle the pains and the fears. So–in general–we decide to be grown up instead. No more feelings. No more hopes. No more dreams and magic in life. Just surviving, being responsible, and eventually dying.

And then, one day, we remember just how much meaning and magic and feeling there is in life. And we wonder why we stopped paying attention to the ghosts and fairy tales. Why we had to get so stuffy and dry.

And when that happens–we pick up a book. A fairy tale, a story about magic. Or we find a movie born out of deep imagination. Or we take a walk in the cool fall breeze and watch the red and yellow leaves swirling and remember the rather blustery day that Winnie-the-Pooh had, and remember that we were more in touch with the stuff of life when we were young.

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

C. S. Lewis

All of which Halloween ramblings, typed away with a Halloween wind blowing the Halloween trees outside my window, bring me to a simple thought: Life is full of magic. Really good magic, and really dark magic. And being deeply in touch with the light and the darkness, death and life, remembering courage, remembering celebrations, and feeling . . . young . . . those matter.

Alive is more alive against the backdrop of all those days of the dead.

And you’re still alive today.

Every Halloween . . . you get to remember all of this, celebrate all this, believe in all this, feel all this. You’re alive. And life has some darkness, but you are brave.

The Great Pumpkin Waltz by Vince Guaraldi – just for you . . . Happy Halloween!

When life gets normal again

I have an idea.

Get a piece of paper and write down some of your deepest thoughts from these lonely, scary, inspiring, deeply humanizing coronavirus days. Thoughts about yourself, about the world, about your neighbors and friends, about hope and kindness and sacrifice. Thoughts about what matters.

Then bury it somewhere in your closet with all the boxes and bins of old stuff.

A couple years from now, when you come across it again, I bet you will learn something about the depth you found during crisis. There may be some bits you had forgotten about as soon as the crisis. ended. Really important bits. Really special bits.

Can we find a way to remember the depth we are finding in crisis? The beauty, the courage, the friendship, the purpose? Can we draw ourselves some little maps, so that when life gets normal again, we won’t forget the deep places we found in these not-normal times?

Some of the changes in ourselves will be good. Can we keep them?

when life gets back to normal 2

7 Inspiring Quotes for Your Next Year

For some reason, Thanksgiving always brings out the new-year-spirit in me. Maybe because it seems like a time of thankfulness is a time of reflection and a time of reflection is a time for dreaming and inspiration. And maybe because I think a year ending deserves a whole month of reflection and appreciation and celebration.

I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s words lately, looking for little gems of encouragement and hope. A lot of times “quotes,” little snippets of a writer’s original thoughts, sometimes out of context, often leaving so much more to be explored–a lot of times quotes don’t say enough. But a lot of times, they say exactly just enough to give you courage, to give you drive, or just to give you peace and hope and something to hold onto.

Here are 7 quotes I love about living your life. If any or all of them resonate with you, bring them into your next year.

Buddha - you deserve your love

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – attr. Buddha

 

Debbie Ford - Be Who You Are

“The greatest act of courage is to be and to own all of who you are–without apology, without excuses, without masks to cover the truth of who you are.” – Debbie Ford

 

Kahlil Gibran - out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” – Kahlil Gibran

 

Jon Kabat-Zinn - surf the waves

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

000 Soren Kierkegaard - not to dare is to lose oneself

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.” – Søren Kierkegaard

 

Terrie Davoll Hudson - the things that excite you

“The things that excite you are not random. They are connected to your purpose. Follow them.” – Terrie Davoll Hudson

 

Neil Gaiman - As Only You Can

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” – Neil Gaiman

Love

Love is not a finite resource. There isn’t a limited number of love things to pass around. Which means holding on tightly to the love inside you, instead of giving it away, isn’t the way to get love.

 

At times I have felt like it is safest to not express all of the big love I feel–for my most special person, my special people, or just random people I see who are also special because they’re people. I have this worry that the more strongly I express love, the less other people will need to express love to me.

Maybe that’s what happens when you’ve had important people in your life who lay the love on thickest when you aren’t on good terms with them, people who are nice-as-can-be when it comes to winning you back, but once they have you back can be a little (or a lot) meaner. Maybe that’s how some of us learn that we’ll get the most love if we play harder to get, emotionally, or if we keep our love-feelings to ourselves.

Or maybe it’s what happens when you’ve expressed lots and lots of love to important people in your life who can’t seem to express much love to begin with, so all your big love and kindness stuff goes unanswered. Unrequited. From the people you should have been able to count on. You’ve been starved of affection, and it stings less to stop giving affection away. Maybe if you don’t express stuff, it’ll make more sense and feel better if people don’t express stuff to you.

Guys, therapy is f***ing great. One of the biggest concepts I’ve learned from it is that closeness and love happens only when you are open and honest and express stuff. Whether that stuff is good or bad. If I am mad at you and I keep that to myself, we grow apart. If I am mad at you and I’m really vulnerably honest with you about the yucky feelings, only then can we get closer. But it works with the good feelings, too. If I love you to death, but I keep it under wraps, as if somehow it’s safer not to tell you I love you, not to tell you I think you’re amazing, not to tell you I am proud of you–if I don’t express the good feelings, we will also grow apart.

 

It seems like a simple and obvious concept, that you shouldn’t be afraid to express love and affection, and be kind and generous–especially toward the really special people in your lives. But at least for me, it doesn’t always come naturally. I still have these times where for some reason it feels unsafe.

Like if I express this big love feeling, or do a really nice thing for you, you won’t need to love me back anymore.

Or that maybe you were never going to show me as much love and kindness as I would show you, so it’ll feel best to not give away more love than I’ll get back.

Guys, the love-stuff you hold onto as if to protect it–it doesn’t feel good to keep. In no world does keeping your positive feelings bottled up, your affection and friendliness under wraps–in no world does this make you feel happier and more fulfilled.

In fact, I bet that the kind of people in your life who would be good to share love with, the kind of people you want to be close with–I bet those people will respond positively to you being your true, kind, generous, loving self. If anything, their love will feed off of yours, and your love will feed off of theirs.

I think when love goes out, more love will come in. When love meets love, two plus two might actually equal seven or eight or nine.

On the flip side, I think when love sits there, immobile, unexpressed, stagnant, the two that it was slowly burns out and feels more like a zero.

Trying to keep all the good feelings for yourself doesn’t work. Let yourself love.

Rumi - love

Monsters until you flip the light switch on

Andrew Gide - Very few monsters warrant the fear we have of them

~

Happy Halloween!

What or who did you think was a monster until you flipped your light switch on?

 

When we think that a thing is dangerous, unknowable, or scary, and we try to not look at it, it stays scary. It’s why, as kids, we think the stuffed animal under our bed or the shirt in the closet is a monster. They will only stop being scary if you flip the light switch on. And only when they stop being scary do you find freedom.

Fear of vague unknown potentialities keeps us from chasing our dreams. Fear of who-knows-what a bully might do if you upset them keeps us from sticking up for ourselves and others. And the fear from seeing someone in your life as a monster to be afraid of, instead of a person to decide what you think about, keeps you stressed and nervous and sometimes even paralyzed.

 

Monsters are scary. When you see the world as one big monster, your dreams are scary. When you flip the light switch on and see that there’s really a lot of good happy safe stuff in life, and that everything is usually okay, the scariness fades away and you find freedom to do what you want to do.

Monsters are scary. On the other hand, flesh-and-blood people you decide that you don’t like or don’t want controlling your life are not scary. They stop being scary when you look at them in the light, look at them honestly, look at them plainly. Most people who have scared you are just people. You sure don’t have to like them, support them, or keep them around. But if they’re keeping you up at night or controlling your feelings, flip the light switch on and see them for who they really are. They are not monsters and so they don’t have any mysterious power over you.

 

I have found a lot of freedom in trading away the monsters I thought were waiting under my bed, for normal life stuff, and for finite, human, limited people who couldn’t really control me.

If you think you, too, might find some freedom in flipping your light switches on, go for it! All the stuff that scared you is normal to someone else. And all the people that you thought were monsters, who you thought you had to be scared of, whose power you thought would affect your whole life–they’re just people. You can choose to stop seeing them as scary monsters. You can be free from the fear.

You can find the courage to choose what you want.