What Will You Be for Halloween?
After the play, which I hardly remember, the neighbors all mingled at a backyard reception with punch and cookies, and I went off with my friends. They said, “Aren’t you going to get out of that costume?” And I said, “Oh, I don’t have time. Let’s just go.” So we walked the streets of Yankton,South Dakota. It was night. And I was a man walking among boys. When finally I came home, my mother took cold cream and washed my face, and I was a boy again.
Today is All Hallow’s Eve. Halloween. It’s a time when children wear costumes and masks, and they love it because a mask allows you to become someone else for a night. A princess or a witch. Spiderman or Batman. But it’s not just for kids. Adults like it too, because that old question never quite goes away: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And every one of us became something when we grew up; it just wasn’t quite what we dreamed of. It was a much tamer version. Most of the imagination was drained out of it. As was the risk and therefore the excitement. We settled for something conventional.
That’s why we still like to put on a disguise, to masquerade as someone more like our old dreams. You can dress up like Lady Gaga or Anakin Skywalker, or a Gladiator or a Greek goddess and you can rule the world for one night, wield transcendent power. For one shining moment you’re not Walter Mitty, the daydreamer who is a hero or a heroine only in some waking fantasy.
So today you have permission to put on a different costume, some alternative mask. It’s a great day for people who are tired of their old outfit, of their old life. Tired enough to be willing to try something else. So tired they don’t care what they “look like”, what other people think anymore. It’s a great day for doing something strange or out of character: no one will care on Halloween. It’s your costume for the day.
If you’ve settled for something conventional, a tamer version of the life you envisioned, you have to be willing to start doing something you’ve been too timid to try.
You don’t have to quit your job; you don’t have to abandon your family; you don’t have to shave your head or walk around town in a saffron robe. It all happens in here, quietly. You just rebel in place. You start speaking your mind. You stop postponing all your joys. You quietly reorder your day’s agenda so that you have a few moments for prayer and reflection—in this culture, that’s a huge act of rebellion! Here’s a bigee: You stop saying Yes to things you don’t feel called to do, and you stop claiming that you have no time to do the things you want to do. You stop being the happy victim. No fanfare required: you just get up in the morning and start living your God-ordained life. But to live this life, you can’t care what you look like or what other people will think.
I had a wonderful old friend and mentor back inPennsylvania—a retired priest named Bill Fox. Bill was in his 70s when I met him—just a gentle and beautiful man. Before he died, he asked me to preach his funeral, and after the service at the reception a woman told me a great Bill story. Years ago she was the organist at the church where Bill was then serving, and she came to work one day and found Bill in the playground, swinging on the swings—in his suit and clerical collar. She said, “I walked by him and said ‘Good morning.’ He didn’t feel any need to explain himself. He just smiled and said ‘Good morning’ back to me and kept on swinging. That was all.”