In my neighborhood, homes are decorated in anticipation of Halloween; these displays have become more extensive and elaborate year to year and are starting to rival the Christmas lights that will go up soon. For me, Halloween provides memories of trick-or-treating, parties, hayrides, chilly evenings, and way too much candy; the area kids who show up at our house in their costumes are so cute. In keeping with this, a few of the items, images and inflatables employed in decorating for the season are whimsical, more often, though, they depict things that in another context might be frightening; they predominantly are dead things.
Let’s be honest, dead things, especially dead people scare the bejeepers out of us, although at Halloween this fright is amusing and fun. Ghosts, mummies, skeletons, headless horsemen, and monsters fashioned out of dead body parts are part of our collective psyche and culture lore. We are attracted to them while at the same time fearing the possibility that they might be real, that they might haunt us, whatever we think that might mean.
Perhaps more terrifying yet more enticing, and certainly more culturally hip are the half-dead or undead beings: vampires, zombies, and the like. These are frequent characters in novels, movies, and stories (my high school girlfriend never missed Dark Shadows, and I think she liked Barnabas Collins better than me). Compared to the totally dead wraiths and specters, these semi-deceased provide an additional level of terror in that we imagine that they are recruiting us to become like them. When we see Dracula bite the neck of a beautiful young maiden, we know what it means; she becomes attracted to him, then he gains power over her as she becomes dependent on then enslaved to him, joining him in his half-dead form.
We chuckle at the plastic skeleton seemingly emerging from a grave in a neighbor’s front yard and enjoy being momentarily terrified by the threateningly macabre of a horror movie because we tell ourselves that it is not real. No vampire will bite us, there is no impending zombie apocalypse, we will never become like them. Except, of course, we will.
We can scream and laugh at ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night because it keeps death at arm’s length. The idea that the spirits of the departed desire to hover, harass, and haunt, that they desire their revenge by dragging us into their world seems so far-fetched that we avoid the obvious fact that we will join them. We will become one of the departed, we will die.
I am not trying to ruin your seasonal celebrations; I like cider and donuts as well as the next guy and welcome any excuse to indulge my sweet tooth. Have a great time at your party. Get your pants scared off at a horror movie (well, keep them on at least until you get home). Spoil the kids in the neighborhood. But maybe remember the next morning, when you start your day with leftover Kit-Kats, to enjoy these moments in life because it is all too short.
All photos from my neighborhood in Bay Village, OH