Volume XI, Issue 44 ~ October 30 - November 5, 2003

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Bay Reflections

Hallowe’en — An Appealing Day
Reprinted from Vol. 1, No. 15
by Sandra O. Martin

Late autumn days sing a siren song. Appeal rings in the air. The blazing trees, the ticklish breezes, the sunbaked smell of Concord grapes, wraithful mists and the Hunter’s Moon break open human hearts like pumpkin shells.

This morning’s pastel sunrise shimmering on the spread satin of the Chesapeake summoned me as strongly as love.

It’s no accident, I think, that we celebrate Hallowe’en, our most appealing holiday, this time of year.

Hallowe’en, you’ll remember, is short for All Hallows’ Eve. October 31 is the “eve” of a big celebration in the Catholic calendar. The next day, November 1, believers pay special attention to all the saints (or hallowed ones) who’ve gone to heaven before them. That’s All Saints’ Day, which in turn is the “eve” of November 2, All Souls’ Day, when all the dear departed whose addresses we’re not so sure about get their share of prayers.

This lovely time of year our thoughts are on the dead; perhaps their thoughts are on us. Maybe not. It may be only our mood, provoked by the bone-deep knowledge that autumn’s abundance is not about to last. This year’s scarce crop of blazing leaves is about to burn out. They’ll fall, and our gardens will wither, and the sun will seem snuffed out by winter’s wet blanket. The lovely Persephone is bound for her half-year in Hades, taking our summer with her.

It may only be winter’s coming that puts death on our minds. Or it may be that the spirits of the underworld really do come calling this time of year, and that Hallowe’en is the open door through which they pass.

Calling that shot is a gamble many prudent folk are unwilling to take. Thank you just the same, they seem to say, we’ll be ready when the ghosts come.

All those little ghosts fluttering in the trees of suburban houses are calling cards marking households that give ghosts their due. “Don’t bother to stop here,” the black cats, harvest kings, spiders and inflatable skeletons signal. “We’re frightful enough.

“Any frights you have in stock would be superfluous at our house. If you really need to scare the living daylights out of somebody, try the house next door. They didn’t bother to put up any decorations. They’re quite unprotected.”

That’s the jack o’lantern’s message.

It’s not crows those scarecrows are scaring away. It’s the beckoning underworld. Ghosts are appealing to us through Hallowe’en’s open door:

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleafing?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
No matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for.
It is Margaret you mourn for.

So wrote the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Autumn, like spring, wants poetry, and long-remembered verses spring forth unbidden to help me interpret my heartfulness. It’s not only leaves and tomatoes that will be leaving — all in such a blaze of glory that we love them better than ever since they were new. We’re thinking ahead.

This time Shakespeare said it: we “love that well which [we] must leave e’re long.”

So why the good mood? Why are all the little ghouls and Freddies and goblins and monsters and veloci-raptors shrieking with delight as they run from house to house to extort candy? Why are big kids and grown-ups dressing up, too? Why’s Hallowe’en such a party?

No wonder we celebrate it. All those little ghosts are crooking their fingers and calling to us in fond, familiar ways: We’re hearing voices of old friends we have loved and lost. We’re hearing our own sweet ghost in them.

The appeal is irresistible. We cannot help but respond.

Come on. Let’s carve the pumpkin and put a candle in it.

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Last updated October 30, 2003 @ 1:57am