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October 30, 2009
by Mark R. Banschick, M.D.
It is a special time of year. The senses are treated to brilliant colors, cool breezes and sweet smells. It is autumn and the days are getting shorter. The air no longer carries the heaviness of late summer; it is now crisp and light. On the best days, the sky is somehow cleaner – a beautiful endless blue. And after the past few weeks of unusual warmth, we feel the change even more strongly.
We know that the quiet of winter is coming.
Nature is the grand stage for the cycle of life and death, of vitality and stillness. And in the midst of this change of seasons comes that peculiar celebration called Halloween; an event that mocks the Grim Reaper and Father Time. Halloween is the night when all disquieting things, decay, fear, horror, disfigurement and our essential vulnerability, are held in check.
And who does this mocking?
Why, it is our children who laugh at the scariness of long shadows, gruesome faces and dark cold nights.
Who is coming to your door? Which scary being is to show up now?
“Trick or treat?”
We know the answer to this question, thanks to generations of children. The answer is a treat. For on October 31st no tricks by any of the darker forces are allowed.
Led by our children, Halloween allows us all to rise above nature, with its cycle of life and death and, for a night, laugh in its face.
For them, 5, 6, 10, 15 years of age, the frailty of life is meaningless. It is in the nature of things that most of their parents are still vibrant and healthy.
Many of them even have grandparents and some, great grandparents. For kids, the passing of summer to fall and on to winter carries the excitement of one season moving into next. The deeply mystical and symbolic meaning that we adults may appreciate, escapes them. This is the way it is meant to be.
There is a cycle to everything important in nature, including our lives. The lives of people, the lives of generations, the lives of nations and the lives of all the memories that have been thought, all tend to come and to go. To paraphrase Ecclesiastes: “There is a time for life, a time for death, a time for sowing and a time for reaping.” And of course, a time for spring’s return, yet again; but not now.
Our kids on Halloween night do not care about philosophy. They become the Grim Reaper. They become Father Time. By identifying, they overcome and grow bigger – for just a moment -than decay; and bigger than death itself.
To watch children walk about with defiant pleasure, enjoying the life of a goblin or a ghost, a long shadow, or a scary face is a heartwarming sight to see. We adults find joy in witnessing this march. We remember our own parents and our own Halloweens. We see in ourselves and in our children something both futile and noble - a triumph of will over the forces of fear and darkness. Look how vulnerable they are and yet how self-confident. In the imagination, so much is possible.
In this day of potential world wars and global warming, it is good to remember that the human spirit yearns for something better – just watch our kids.
So, Halloween is not scary; it is filled with treats. And the biggest treat of them all? It is for us adults. We get to witness yet another generation of children who take pleasure in this dark magical night.
There is something in the cycle of nature that does allow us to have a modest victory in the end. It is that our seed, our ideas, our passion, our imagination and our goodness do get carried on by generations going forward. This is our immortality. This is our mocking and our truest response to the cycle of life and death; winter, summer, spring and fall.
Mark R. Banschick, M.D., is a child psychiatrist practicing in Katonah, New York.