Still trembling with fear, I grabbed Mom’s arm in wobbly desperation. “Do Not Ever let me ride that again!” I gasped. “Even when I’m a teenager and I come here with my friends, tell them I Am Not allowed to ride that ride!”
My mom took me and my sister to Disneyland, an hour-and-a-half drive from our home, and we went on the Haunted Mansion ride. About half-way through, our chair spun suddenly toward a mirror where I could see ghosts, invisible when I looked at myself but visibly sitting on my lap when I glanced in the mirror. Gah, ghosts? Only nine years old, I had the first panic attack of my life.
I’m not a Halloween person. As a kid, I liked costume parades and school carnivals, pumpkin carving and candy, all the candy, until that one year I learned that ALL the candy isn’t a grand idea. As a parent, I enjoyed helping my kids choose costumes, the kid-cute creativity and the fun of families gathering together for dinner and a trick-or-treat stroll of the neighborhood.
I understood early that I am sensitive, and scary + gore = more terror than I can handle. I eventually succumbed to sleep-over peer pressure and watched a few horror movies with friends, but that came to a hard stop when Nightmare on Elm Street gave me actual nightmares for months.
However, Halloween will always fall on October 31 and All Saints’ Day will always fall on November 1. I didn’t grow up within a tradition that observed All Saints’ Day, but it took on new meaning when my dad died on my son’s first birthday.
The Church has a centuries-old tradition of setting aside this day to remember those who have gone before us from life into death to form the “great cloud of witnesses” as mentioned in Hebrews: …since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus… (Hebrews 12:1-2, NRSV)
Although I have lightly pussy-footed with a little bit of running, that race image has never worked for me. I’m kind of a wuss, and perseverance implies a hard-edged discipline I don’t possess. Joy motivates me far more…and so it truly helps to remember that I, that we, have a jam-packed cheering section hootin’ and hollerin’ for us as we look to Jesus for direction on how to live each day.
I still don’t have a specific All Saints’ Day observance. Unlike Dia de Muertos, for me this day doesn’t come prepackaged with decorations, traditions, and treats. Some years it slips my notice altogether. But last night we had the quietest Halloween ever, take-out burritos (boo-ritos!) and a suspenseful (not gory) movie and not a single trick-or-treater at the door. Our kids having grown older and this pandemic year combined to cancel one more opportunity to gather.
Which made me more grateful for the timely encouragement I found this morning when I wasn’t even looking for it, a prayer and a hymn, the great cloud of witnesses putting resources in my hands to remind me that, though we may feel alone in these strange days, we are never truly alone.
By the way, my family celebrated my 40th birthday at Disneyland and, as the Haunted Mansion was also 40 years old, I received skip-the-line passes for the ride. Despite countless trips to Disneyland, I had, in fact, not ridden the ride since that first time. I put it off all day until finally, determined to conquer my fear, my young son held my hand and rode it with me.
Renovated to include characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas movie, we giggled throughout our short trip. The ride still has the ghost-infested mirrors, but they no longer scared me. At the end, my son looked at me with concern on his face: What about that was so scary for you? I understood his incredulity; the ride isn’t scary.
It scared me once, though, when it showed me that there might be more going on in our experience of this life than we can observe with our two eyes. Still, I’ll take a heavenly cheering section over ghosts any day.
Prayer: Lord, your saints come from every nation and every tribe. Such is the beauty of your kingdom, where every race and people are honored and recognized as being made in your image. Help us live lives of peace and reconciliation that pay homage to the diversity of your great cloud of witnesses. Amen. (from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro)
Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain
Be still my soul thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end
Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below
Be still, my soul, when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the vale of tears,
then shall you better know his love, his heart,
who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay
from his own fullness all he takes away.
Be still, my soul! The hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored
Be still, my soul! When change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last
(Be Still, My Soul!, music by Jean Sibelius, words adapted from Psalm 46 by Kathrina von Schlegel)