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October 21, 2021

All Hallows’ Eve: A (Playful) Way to Transform our Deepest Fears.

When I was a kid, I loved Halloween.

My sister’s birthday celebration always coincided with trick or treating and it was one of the few times of the year when as a family we would do something creative. It usually involved spending weeks crafting DIY costumes.

My mother was a genius at repurposing things around the house—like when I was three and she dressed me up as Santa Claus using my white ruffled underwear as a beard. These disguises felt a thousand times better to wear than any store bought costume ever has.

She knew the power of music to set a mood. So when the “spooky halloween” sound track started to howl through the apple trees, I knew it was October.

Playing with fear made it disappear.

The fear of death?

Somewhere between cutting an arch in the back of a cardboard cereal box to paint it black and the moment that our homemade RIP headstone was placed in the backyard, the graveyard became a playground.

I also became aware of the day of the dead, which was usually celebrated in Mexico right around Halloween. Seeing a different culture celebrating loved ones that had passed—with skeleton makeup and joy—made me a little more comfortable with the concept of death.

The terror of being startled by a monster?

That vanished after we spent hours figuring out how to rig our bedsheet ghost to fly out of the shadows when the front door opened.

Even gore and decomposition had its allure.

The majestic pumpkins that had slowly grown for months in the garden were now dismembered. Their slippery seeds were carefully separated from the stringy, slimy innards to be salted and shoved into the oven to roast while the pumpkin’s flesh was artfully carved. Ultimately, a candle was placed and lit in their bellies, as the heat and the elements accelerated their decay.

My fear of evil?

I played with this as well. During the moments when I became the monster or a witch, I was ugly and I cackled, but deep down, I was there to play. I was never a fan of horror movies and the ones I did see didn’t impress me; the plots were impossible or the decisions the actors made were so stupid that I didn’t take their depiction of evil to heart.

Even my fear of strangers lessened.

Yes, we still had to travel in groups and there was always that one story on the news every year, like the razor blade that was found in the snickers bar. But the act of climbing the stairs to a stranger’s porch, knocking on the door, and then asking for what I wanted—for a shy child like myself—that was liberating.

As middle school and high school years arrived, this generous holiday continued to offer me opportunities to grow.

The first time I dressed up as a superhero, I found myself unprepared for the battles I would attract. When a remote controlled machine rammed into my leg and a voice over the speaker told me I was a pathetic Wonder Woman, I felt awkward and embarrassed. Luckily, this activated my dormant superpowers, so in subsequent battles, I was quick to break out some karate like moves, or capture someone with my imaginary lasso of truth.

By the time I was in college, All Hallows’ Eve allowed me to explore what it felt like to wear something sexy and revealing.

Halloween was a culturally accepted window for femininity and sexuality to be explored. No one really judged the skimpy bunny outfit, the fairy godmother, or the naughty nurse. As sexist as these costumes may have been, they gave me a chance to “try on” a persona that I would probably otherwise never experience.

My most lasting lesson from this period? I would rather be warm and cozy than cold and sexy.

Every time I chose to embody a new character on Halloween, I learned something about myself.

I learned that I’m actually capable of improvising and comedy, and that I have access to a much broader range of personality than I realized. I also learned that it’s okay to freeze and not know what to do or say—it’s just a game. Most importantly, I learned that I am courageous.

Halloween has given me one of the greatest lessons of my life:

That I can be paralyzed by fear, or I can look with curiosity and anticipation at what lies on the other side.

On October 31, odds were always that facing my fear would bring me a treat—something sweet, laughter, and celebration.

So this year I offer you a Halloween challenge: for just one day, play with your fear and try on something new.

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Ann Barnet M.D.  |  Contribution: 8,250

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