Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Parent/Curmudgeon Overthinks Trick-or-Treating

My son is nervous about trick or treating tonight. Honestly, I don't know why he shouldn't be. "Don't take candy from strangers," he hears. "Except today. They'll be LOTS of candy. Oh, and the candy givers, like the candy takers, will be anonymous, you won't know who it is, but she or he will be dressed as the kinds of things that inspire the fears that lead adults to instruct children not to take candy from strangers."

"C'mon! It'll be fun!"

We've told him he doesn't have to, but he doesn't want to miss out on the candy. He's determined to go. Shaking with fear. Despising the whole thing. Willing to do what it takes. This breaks my heart.

[For all you "fixers" out there, relax. J's gonna be just fine, and we're going to help him find a path tonight that feels good and right to him. My point is to appreciate his dilemma from his vantage point.]

It's an interesting question for grown-ups, too: what principles are you willing to grow accustomed to breaking against your better judgment, what values are you committed to compromising, because you wouldn't want to miss out on the candy, metaphorically speaking, because "it's just what it takes"?

I'm not suggesting that mistrust of strangers is a principle worth building a life around. I am only observing that children have often been formed around this one. I am suggesting that adults often insert children into confusing conflicts of self-contradiction, and that it takes an alarming lack of self-awareness not to confess these predicaments to our children. 

But exactly because I don't believe mistrust of strangers is a principle worth building a life around, I'm intrigued by the ritual combination of trust and generosity we exhibit at Halloween and how it might become a building block or door toward something more. Why do we meet each other at the threshold of our strangeness as monsters to each other, our worst fears come true? Does our mutual monstrousness serve to justify the distances we'll keep from each other after the day is over, or does it do the opposite, inspiring us to open doors to even those we're trained to fear? From the other side of the door, how does the practice inform our willingness to ask for help when we need it? Does this night deter us from outing ourselves as monsters in need or inspire us to knock on strange doors, confident in the welcome we'll receive, even when we feel like strangers to ourselves? How does the Christian faith inform our imagination for these things?

I risk over-thinking, I know. But it's not lost on me that a nation wrought with anxiety over refugees at its borders is about to reflexively practice large-scale hospitality without much thought tonight. When it happens, it feels so close to something good, something beautiful, but it also feels so very close to the opposite of good and beautiful, a mockery of the hospitality we would refuse when in matters. What does it mean that we practice the instilling of fear in each other? How might we do otherwise with at least as much intentionality? 

So many questions and, I know, it's *just* trick or treating. But I don't think my son is the strange one tonight; I think the ones (like me) for whom the contradictions are normal have an opportunity just now to grow for the Good.

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