Don’t Look Under the Bed
There are plenty of scary things everywhere else.
I’m trying to think of something appropriately spooky for Halloween, but I think it best to avoid wisecracks about witches. First, it’s only been 330 years since the last victims of the Salem witch trials were executed, and it still feels too soon. Second, there are so many scary Republican candidates running in the midterm election that I think Democrats might want to hire our Wiccan friends to warn voters about them.
Halloween derives from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, in which people dressed in costumes to ward off ghosts and ensure a successful harvest. From a modern perspective, that seems like a dubious approach to agriculture. On the other hand, there are always factors beyond our control. Unless you’re actually planning on burning people at the stake, a little whistling past the graveyard is probably harmless.
If strange noises are coming from inside your walls, it is likelier to be a raccoon than the ghost of an axe murderer that your real estate agent neglected to warn you about. Americans in 1957 during the Cold War were encouraged to fear the Soviet Sputnik satellite; now we have space probes deliberately crashing into asteroids.
You might reasonably be scared if you were alone in your room and saw someone next to you in the mirror. But there is a greater chance of aliens from space hiding among us than ghosts, and I think we should welcome undocumented immigrants.
Imagine being alone in a rowboat a couple miles offshore on a moonlit night. It’s a pleasant evening and you think of taking a swim. Then you remember megalodons (giant ancient sharks) and the legendary Kraken, and you decide to stay in the boat.
Oh, be sensible. There would be just as much risk from an otherwise friendly modern-day shark taking a test bite, or an orca inadvertently knocking you unconscious with a swat of a fin. In any case, how much protection do you think your little boat will afford you if a sea creature 20 times your size decides you’d make a tasty midnight snack?
It’s always safer to have someone else along with you, because if worse comes to worst you only have to outswim your friend, not the monster. Then again, who says monsters don’t travel in groups?
A friend of mine from El Salvador, who began here as an undocumented worker but is not the least bit scary, once accompanied me on a visit to Rock Creek Church Cemetery at night. The main gates were closed and padlocked, but the pedestrian gate was still open. My friend was from a culture where they are afraid of going to cemeteries at night. I told him not to worry, that it had been years since the last report of someone being grabbed from below ground by the undead. (I am very helpful in this way.) To be honest, he was a lovely fellow and I was hoping he would cling to me for comfort.
It quickly became evident, however, that my friend was no more inclined to make love with me on the graves of Henry and Clover Adams or Alice Roosevelt Longworth than in any other place. He was murmuring little prayers, which I found quite charming. We soon walked out the gate and made our way to the Petworth Metro station several blocks away. The sound of his laughter was enchantment enough.
We tend to be scared by the unfamiliar, or by people and things we’ve been taught to fear. The cult of know-nothingism exploits this impulse, causing occasional surges as at present with the increase in book banning. Personally, I am more scared of a weak and unprincipled politician like Kevin McCarthy becoming Speaker of the House.
Here are a few questions to ask people who appear susceptible to such manipulations: Are you aware that the banned books are a few clicks away on the mobile phones to which you and your teenagers are addicted? Do you think your kids will be less likely to go behind your back to read books that you’ve treated like dangerous pornography? And will they be likelier to take your advice after you’ve shown that you don’t trust them with All Boys Aren’t Blue?
In the long run, we can only prepare our children for the world, not protect them from it. We do that best by helping them develop informed minds and habits of cooperation. A spirit of wonder is more empowering than a culture of fear. ▼
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at firstname.lastname@example.org.