Halloween is upon us, bringing my annual chance to be an adult about my irrational dread of ghosts and spirits.
I’m uneasy around people who wear masks and outfits that disguise their true identities. That’s especially true when they show up on my front step in the evening shadows and expect me to open my door to them. I very much prefer to know who (or what, cue the eerie organ music) is out there before I welcome them over the threshold.
I know I’m not being reasonable or grown-up, but I have this thing about spirits. I always have, and having passed my 75th birthday with the feeling unaltered, I expect I always will have.
Listen, I'm a big believer in science. I learned about physics and math and chemistry from the best — Howard Elrod at Chamberlain High. When he was demonstrating how chemicals combined or how objects of varying weights would fall at the same speed, though, I never mentioned that I was open to the possibility that spirits, not the properties of chemicals or the force of gravity might be driving things.
I kept those thoughts to myself for obvious reasons. A person simply doesn’t believe in spirits. An adult goes to a scary movie and laughs at spirits and ghosts. I can’t do that, so I don’t go to the theater to see scary movies. I don’t even dial them up on the television in the security of my own home. I wouldn’t run screaming out of the theater if I did go to one of those movies, but I’d want to, and I’d be fighting back the impulse to do so, even at this age.
Time was, when I was in grade school and junior high, I had to go to those movies. A 12- or 14-year-old guy can’t admit he’s afraid to go see “The Haunted Strangler” or “Tarantula” or anything with Boris Karloff or Lon Chaney in the cast. A guy of that age has to say, “Oh, sure, you bet. Let’s go see that movie. Nothing frightens me.” Then that guy walks home from the State Theater downtown with his buddy Mike. As soon as Mike walks through the door of his house and leaves the guy by himself on the road, the guy sprints madly over the last dark, empty blocks of River Street and around the corner toward the safety of the porch light at his own back door.
I used to do that after every horror film I watched as a boy. These days — for years and years, in fact — I avoid running in terror by avoiding scary movies. You might call that wimping out. I call it a survival technique, a coping skill. Avoidance can be a pretty valuable tool to have in the bag of irrational responses, I’ve learned.
As if trying to cope with those fears weren’t enough, a dear relative of mine posted on her social media site some information about a thing called “Samhain,” That’s the name of a festival celebrated by the ancient Celts. It marked the end of harvest and the beginning of the darker half of the year. Darker, indeed, with winter approaching and Daylight Savings Time nearing an end. I don’t suppose the ancient Celts were big on Daylight Saving Time, but they did like a good festival.
My relative’s post said Samhain arrived at the end of October. It’s when “the veil between the spirit world and the earthly realm becomes thinnest.” There’s a change of energy in the air, supposedly, and it’s the best time to communicate with the dead, which I really don’t need to know. I told you I already have this thing about spirits and ghosts. I don’t need to be thinking the trick-or-treat kiddies at my door are actually, you know, things that might want to communicate through the thin veil of Samhain.
One fact I did learn as I researched Samhain is there’s an actual thing called samhainophobia. It’s a fear of Halloween or a fear of the festival of the dead. What do you suppose they’d call a fear of spirits all year long?