Thursday, November 1, 2018

Halloween and Aging

Last night, I realized that my feelings about Halloween become more complicated as I get older.  I've always loved Thanksgiving, which is a straight forward holiday to me; it's about food and gratitude.  Likewise, Christmas:  long ago I gave up any traditions that didn't have significance to me, and I'm good at not letting society dictate how we celebrate that holiday.

But Halloween has always made me feel conflicted.  It doesn't feel safe to me, and for me, that's not about the calories in the candy or the holiday's possible links to evil spirits.  For me, that lack of safety comes from grown people dressing up in costumes which gives a lot of them permission to act in ways that are far from wise.

Lately, Halloween is a holiday that makes me feel old--or maybe I should say it makes me feel old in a different way than it once did.  When I was in grad school in my early 20's, I felt old because I didn't go drinking in bars on Halloween like so many of my peers did.  Now I feel old for other reasons.

In part, it's because I am getting older.  I ate an apple yesterday and thought about my youth, when we broke every piece of candy into pieces to make sure that no one had slid a razor blade into them.  If we got anything like a piece of fruit, we threw it away.  I wonder if modern parents still have these concerns.  I'm guessing that people worry more about the calories of candy or the ingredients more than they worry about someone putting razors into them.

Once I saw parents with their small children, and they were my age, more or less.  Now when I see people my age with small children, it's likely that they're out trick-or-treating with their grandchildren.

Last night, I watched younger teenagers getting ready for a party.  One had a wolf mask, so one of the other teenagers decided to change her costume, from being a burglar to being Little Red Riding Hood.  As I watched them construct a cape, I thought of all the various approaches to that fairy tale, the feminist interpretations along with the work of Bruno Bettelheim who analyzed fairy tales with a Freudian slant.  I am proud of myself that I didn't impart any of this wisdom to the teenagers.  Let them have their fun.

These days, I am more aware than ever of Halloween's linking to All Saints Day, which we celebrate today.   Traditionally, this day celebrates the saints who have gone on before us. Traditionalists would only celebrate the lives of the truly beatified and the lives of those martyred for the faith; we'd celebrate the more recently dead tomorrow, with the Feast of All Souls. Many modern churches have expanded this feast day (or collapsed the 2 feast days) to become a day when we remember our dead.

It's easy to get lost in grief these days. But let us not linger in the land of grief too long. One reason why I love this trio of holidays is that it reminds us that life is short and that we'd better get on with the important work that we want to do.

Most days, we move in our modern culture that wants to deny death and aging. But I often think that this denial works to our detriment. I think of John Keats, as I often do, who wrote some of the best poems in all of British literature in the few years before he died in his 20's. He woke up every day, coughed up a bit of his lungs from the TB that he had contracted, and then got to work on his poetry. He only had encouragement from a few people, but he knew what he had to do--and having watched so many die of TB, he had that sense that he had not a minute to waste.

Let us be similarly inspired by these high festival days that are upon us.

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