A candle flame. A match blown out. Smoke. Bonfire sparks. A pumpkin patch. A rotted squash. A haunted ride. A caramel apple. Sticky. A glass of cider. Trick or treat. Live or die.
How easy it is to create a mood, bleed a thought into another. I lit a candle, and thought of the pumpkin farm next to my old neighborhood. The sky would turn dark at 6:30 pm. Winter’s prelude.
I also thought about this as I stared at the candle flame: Halloween is our current society’s only digestible form of a memento mori, and it’s a vanilla form at that. It used to be that skulls were not reserved for the weird, but were commonly fashioned on a desk, as ordinary as a pencil holder today or a lamp. It was ordinary to think of death on a daily basis.
Do you keep a small reminder of death on your desk and look at it every day?
There is a great line from Hollow City, the sequel to Miss. Pereguine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It essentially says that today, death goes unseen from most of the public’s eye. It is censored from us, and we go on living in a farce, indulging ourselves, pretending we are immortal. Death is more of an enigma now than it ever was, contained in clean white hospitals. Or contained in the news, in a faraway place.
This has good and bad implications.
Good: our medical care has gotten better. So has our efficiency in treating people.
Bad: We numb ourselves to death. We think, “not I.”
We ignore Ebola. We think, “not us.” We let death take others. We do not shackle it to our own thoughts.
This is a relatively new thing. Death used to take us younger. We expected it. Now, we dismiss it from our vocabulary until we’ve had 40 years after going grey.
Trick or treat. Live or die.
When was the last time you saw a hearse drive down the road?
Or went to a funeral or a wake with an open casket?
Yes, morbid thoughts. But we are on the subject of death, aren’t we?
Of course, it is exhausting to think about mortality. It can catalyze a form of deep worry that is exhausting.
When it gets overwhelming, I like to have a cider.
But I do believe keeping death tucked somewhere close in the mind is a good thing. It helps me to live richly. I do what I want to do first, in case I don’t get a second chance to.
Holidays help us live richly, too. They are sacred days. We take time to prepare a feast on Thanksgiving and nourish ourselves in a way that our busy lives do not allow for normally. We turn our backs on the living and give our hearts to the dead on Halloween. We celebrate rebirth, renewal, and the chance at being able to change on Easter. Each of us have different holidays we celebrate. They help us slow the world down. We need this today, in a world of endless scrolling and eye-dring neon screens.