halloween recognizes the fear, dread, the grotesque nature of horror and of death. kate moos, on the speaking of faith blog, speaks about the deliciousness of getting to ‘become a monster’ for only one night a year, and i think she’s right: there is certainly something in how humanity repeatedly seeks to wallow in the depths of death for (at least) one night a year. on hallow’s eve, we make light of it. halloween has become a day of raunch, of candy-guzzling, cheap thrills, and funny costumes. but it is also something richer, more nauseatingly terrifying: a staring into the cold heart of death that is essential to human experience. in the end, though, the night ends, and we are greeted with… candy, sensation, laughter. reminders of our very alive lives.
i love michael jackson’s thriller video. it encapsulates what halloween was to me as a kid: very eighties of course, lots of rotting skin, but playful, ending with a laugh. it tempts us into fear more than once, but never quite to seriousness — because who can really be that afraid of dancing zombies? michael had it under control.
then we come to the next day, far less grotesque but perhaps more graceful, and certainly more frightening: all saint’s day.
this time, the chill of a cold october night has given way to the penetrating absence of those lost to death.
this time, we encounter death not as fantasy, but in how it has touched our lives. the rotting flesh is not upon the faces of zombies, but instead is in our minds, in the reality of what we knows happens to bodies when their souls depart.
we light candles not to be spooky or funny or to light up the night with an orange playful glow. now we light them to remember, whispering names too often unspoken. alice. leo. george. lindsay. we think of the day we know will come when our loved ones will die. or, when we die.
both candles serve purposes. we need to mock and intimidate death as much as we fear it, else we are overcome with terror. and yet, and yet. and yet we remember, bringing to life again that which was lost, speaking into being the memory of days passed, serving the purpose of loving each other in life, despite the inevitability of death.
this year in minneapolis (my first fall back in minnesota, after nine years away), september was unseasonably warm, and october unseasonably wet. there’s been none of that good, crisp, classic autumnal weather. sometimes, when i’m being a little flexible, i feel as if fall is a time where you breathe deep and know that the dry, crumbled leaf particles are entering your body via your nostrils, slowly imbuing your being with dust, with earth, with chill, with winter, and with solemnity. the cycles of the seasons affect our bodies and our senses, and fall, to me is a grand explosion of harvest, the last push of joy and yearning before a deep and heavy slumber.
an pumpkin ‘lantern’ seemed to me appropriate for fall. leaves and ghosts and acorns and stars peppered across the gourdy finish, it lends a fairy-like glow to halloween.