Surprised by Mystery

Halloween and a Childhood Discovery

When I was about ten years old growing up in Havana, my friends and I made an awesome discovery.

We had been rehearsing for the Christmas pageant in the church basement, and one day during our explorations between scenes we opened a previously unseen door to the unexpected. In the room, in the half-light from the high basement windows, we could see faces.

We jumped back in the doorway. Some of the figures were standing, others leaning, some were missing their hands, all of them stared at us with impenetrable glass eyes.

These statues stored in our church basement probably spanned 300 years, each shrouded in inscrutability. In Latin America, Spanish Catholicism had mingled with the indigenous and given us this other-worldly expression.

Dial the basement for mystery
The statues lived in the basement while upstairs the world moved about oblivious to the mystery beneath. This was what made it so wonderful for us, the mystery. The world of the grown ups moved in predictable patterns among predictable things, but in the basement, the faces had the power to scare us silly, to fill us with the spine-tingling excitement of the divine, and sometimes with the edifying terror of the demonic.

Sadly the statues stayed in Havana and I came here, but in college I discovered the Halloween rituals of my friends. The boys would visit a graveyard at midnight (preferably a very old one), where they waited unseen for some apparition. They invariably returned with a tall tale which brought back that spine-tingling other-ness from childhood.

So, I like Halloween, I like how it helps us remember (if we engage our imagination) that the orderly world of traffic lights and digital clocks is not all there is. Halloween can scare us, remind us, wake us up to the beyond…(feel the tingling?). The beyond can get very near us then and can fill us with a very necessary childlike fear and awe.