October 28, 2016

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Scary stories are becoming all too real and scary in today’s world

Cynthia DewesKids love to be scared. As babies, they play peek-a-boo, happily anticipating the sudden unveiling of a familiar face. But the element of surprise is always there, which just might lead to a less desirable sight.

Surprise goes hand in hand with being scared. Children play hide and seek, screaming either in glee or terror when they discover, or are discovered by others. They love to hear ghost stories around a cozy campfire, and Halloween is right up their alley.

Of course, Halloween is All Hallows’ Eve, a religious observance of the eve of the feast of All Saints, or All Holy Persons. But it began as a pagan Roman observation of the end-of-summer close to the food-growing season.

Later, the pre-Christian Celts believed that ghosts of the dead roamed the Earth on that night, and they lit bonfires atop high hills to scare them away. When the Celts became Christian, they converted the night into a precursor to All Saints Day. And All Hallows Eve morphed into Halloween.

Now, I’m sure that kids couldn’t care less about the origins of Halloween. They just love the dressing up and eating the treats and pretending to be scared even when they’re really not. And for me and one of my friends from grade school, it meant the inevitable Halloween birthday party.

Every year, our class celebrated students’ birthdays. Mine was Oct. 30, and my friend’s was Nov. 1, so guess what? Every year, like it or not, we had a Halloween-themed celebration. The holiday we both loved had become a kind of ordeal. We still laugh about it when we get together annually.

However, the things that scared us then pale by comparison to what frightens us nowadays. We had funny Bob Hope and Abbott and Costello comedies with spooky themes, and so-called horror films about Dracula and Frankenstein. We were scared, but we always knew it was just fun.

We’ve graduated to Freddie Krueger and Nightmares on Elm Street and Scream. We’ve dripped through gallons of gore and blood, so far into the realms of scariness that it’s become really unbelievable. It’s still kind of fun, but even more unbelievable.

Other current “scary” films involve villainous creatures from outer space invading our country, or spies from nations at odds with the U.S. slyly sneaking into our government to destroy our freedoms. Or unprincipled doctors or scientists bent on infiltrating our populations with awful diseases that have no cure. Whatever the plot, unlike in the past, the fear it inspires is threatening to our very survival.

Today, what scares us is so terrible that it’s no longer kid stuff. Russia is rattling nuclear destruction at us once more, and medieval societies with modern weapons threaten to destroy our civilization. Fanatics of all kinds are dividing people into hateful factions bent on eliminating each other. So it’s no wonder that kids still love witches and ghosts. What possible fun could there be in dressing up like an ISIS goon or a corporate raider?

The best thing to do, I think, is to keep offering children the love and assurance of protection they need in order to thrive. If they can receive from us the same unlimited love and forgiveness that God gives to us, his children, real fears will be destroyed. And we’ll all be ready, the next day, to greet the blessed saints whose company we hope to join one day.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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