Casper (Famous Studios) and … Grasper (Joe Mahoney, Getty Images)

Fright Night

Jo’s mother: “Everything’s seen at its best in the dark … You know I can’t understand why you’re so frightened of it.”
 Jo: “It’s not the darkness outside I’m frightened of … it’s the darkness inside [of] houses I don’t like.” — from A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney

I used to adore nighttime.

Don’t resent it nowadays, I’ve just become indifferent.

All this on the cusp of Halloween — a holiday met with similar indifference in our family.

You see, Mom and Dad loved Christmastime because, on Dec. 21, 1957, they married. Poinsettias lined the Greensburg United Methodist Church that day. Every year thereafter was an opportunity for them to reclaim their joy of that day — and they waved us into the party every chance they got. It’s one of my happiest memories of them.

Oh, but Halloween.

My earliest memory is losing a mask a children’s radio event in Indianapolis. I cried buckets that fall. Later in Maryland our Irish-Catholic neighbors, the Alywards, led the charge in costume-making and door-knocking for “trick or treats.” They were always great fun. I totally get the theatricality of Halloween, but there’s a deeper issue here: the disruption before the calm, All Hallow’s Eve, because the Hallowed, the saints and their ilk, arrive at daybreak on Nov. 1.

So, in a nutshell, Halloween is the Nightwalking you must go through to get to Daytalking.

We’ve covered this ground before, but I think it needs more teasing out.

Daytalking is easier for me to define because it’s formed the happiest moments of my life. It’s not exactly “talking” but pure relating — connection, belonging, the thing most lacking in society today. It’s transparency, honest, candor, freedom to be yourself and allowing others to do the same (hence the connection part). For a word-phrase denoting “light” and “speech,” it’s actually a silent activity. You can be Daytalking just by silently holding the hand of someone you love. That’s the gist of it, really.

Nightwalking, however, is rough.

Rough because no one likes going through difficult times. They make us uncomfortable, like a scary movie, until we realize in the end that maybe the catharsis was necessary.

So, what if we approached Nightwalking from a Halloween perspective? I have to delve into movies to make this point, so here goes nothing.

I don’t care much for violent horror flicks — you know, the slasher stuff — but I do love a good ghost story. And I think I know why.

Ghosts, at base, are lost between worlds. I grew up with Casper the Friendly Ghost — and he was forever misunderstood. Even as a kid I got it, because kids always feel like they’re either in the way or just being ignored. The sad thing about Casper is he would remain a ghost because he’d never be recognized for his open-heartedness and generosity. I fear that may be true for many of us.

On the other hand, there are evil spirits. M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense demonstrated that evil includes self-absorption, ignorance, and indifference. Heck, just look at Grasper the Unwelcome Ghost, haunting not only the White House but every goddamn media outlet on the planet.

Ghosts are needful things. They can’t slip their “ghosty track” until they’ve been acknowledged — and that’s usually by scaring the shit out of everyone else.

Ghosts (and zombies, their kin) are Nightwalking personified. They’re stuck, undead, spaced out, hungry for attention (and brains), and huge nuisances.

But as a metaphor, they exist for a reason.

Because we’ve all been that way — some to a greater degree than others.

This past week I encountered two strangers and a friend Nightwalking. I know what they’re going through, and will help them if I can. Nightwalking truly scares me. I don’t like the person I become when I’m there.

But I now realize it’s not a permanent state. It’s just a passage through, if I’m able to call it out — just like acknowledging the ghost that begs to be heard.

I’m reminded of the scene in The Sixth Sense where Kyra, the poisoned girl, needs to show Malcolm the truth — a truth even he’s not ready to acknowledge — and in the end brings an uneasy closure to a family torn by ignorance and deceit.

Maybe that’s the true meaning of Halloween: jolting the system so we can move forward to a better place?

Who knows.

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