Happy Halloween!

The word “happy” makes me happy. We use it to recognize people on their birthdays, to think about our blessings on Thanksgiving, to wish people well during the Christmas and Hanukka seasons, to welcome the new year. But what exactly makes Halloween a happy occasion?

It has a long, interesting history, beginning with the ancient Celts who celebrated their new year on November 1st. They believed that the night before their new year, the ghosts of the dead returned to Earth, creating mayhem among the living. Eventually, 9th century Christianity appropriated the Celtic holiday and called it All Saints Day, with Halloween being the eve of that hallowed time. (Check out this History channel article for a detailed look at the history.) For the Celts, I imagine that the happy time was twofold: the harvest was officially in and a new year was upon them, when once again the dead would go back to where they belonged.

For many of us today, Halloween is a fun time, especially for children. I loved it as a child. In my small Florida town (about 3500), all the kids in costumes gathered near Main Street for a parade to the Women’s Club, which held a little carnival with bobbing apples, game booths, and candied apples and pies. When it got dark, we’d gang up with our friends and go trick-or-treating – without adults. It was a safe time. And a time when we roamed all over the little town freely. We were wildly happy together– and candy-rich by the time we wandered home.

People didn’t go all out to decorate their yards back then, as many do today. Sometimes there were jack-o-lanterns on the stoops or sheet ghosts in the yard, and sometimes the adults who answered the door would try to scare us in their homemade witch or ghost costumes. We were always treated. I don’t remember playing a single trick.

Today, some of us as adults hold costume parties. And others, like me and my husband, had the great pleasure for a number of years of trick-or-treating with our three grandchildren in the Fox Valley. Alas, they’ve outgrown having us tag along. And I get that; for me as a child, the great fun of Halloween was prowling the streets in costume with my costumed friends and seeing other kid gangs in their various costumes and guessing who they were (we knew about everyone within a few years of our age group).

The worsening covid pandemic (and, even before that, the fear of harm to our children) has dampened the joy of this year’s Halloween. Nevertheless, I hope you’re planning to have a little Halloween fun tonight – or shortly thereafter. Be happy. Make someone else happy, however you can.

Photos: Our Halloween sock monkey; grandkids’ jack-o-lanterns in times past; grandkids showing off their pumpkins in other times past; grandkids, Doug and I preparing to go trick-or-treating; card creation by Lee Ann, my good friend in Boise.

Another Lazy Morning Inside the Coffee Tent

I try not to think about politics when I first wake up. Instead, I look out the bank of windows facing east and check the look of things. This morning it’s rather gray, the sky and crestless bay gray. The only sound I hear is an occasional car passing in the distance, no wind whistling in the pines, no birdsong, no geese overhead honking. It’s too cold for late October, too muted, too somber.    

I don’t get up immediately, unless my husband is still in bed and the coffee maker not turned on, which is rare. Usually, like this morning, he’s placed a cup of coffee on my nightstand. I reach for my cherished captain’s cup with its wide bottom to anchor against rolling seas; for me, it’s to keep the cup from tipping as it sits on my body under the sheet and quilt that my upturned knees make into a coffee tent.

I sip carefully, savoring the warm nutty taste, and reflect on the previous day, often remembering things that escaped my attention the day before. Maybe something someone said during a Zoom meeting or something I read or saw on TV or something I did or forgot to do. Anything except politics. That done, I let my mind drift wherever.

This morning my thoughts turn to color. I want to punctuate the dreariness with bright colors. I drift back a few days. A man was walking near the bay. Everything was gray, like today, the sky and bay, the trees and distant street. Except for the man’s bright orange windbreaker – a spot of cheer, a moment of joy. I remember going out for the mail, saddened by the brownness of the maple leaves covering the ground. Except when I reached a spot where the browns and dull yellows were speckled with red, newly fallen leaves still bright and somehow glorious. Another moment of joy.

I relish these moments of joy, the ones that are unexpectedly there. They don’t have to be awesome. They’re small fleeting things, like the flash of Pete Souza’s photo of Obama cradling two infants in his arms during MSNBC’s The Way I See It. Or noticing pink buds on the Christmas cactus already. Or hearing the laughter of children as they fly by on their bicycles. Or finding just the right words to describe the way I see things.

Eventually my coffee needs a warmup. I go nuke it, grab my phone on the way back, and annoy Leon the cat who has curled up on the warm spot I left behind. I nudge him over as I crawl in. I pet him. He purrs, a comforting sound. He settles in by my side and keeps purring as I turn on my phone and make a point of not reading the news feeds.

But I can’t keep myself from going to Twitter and then Facebook to see what people are saying. Lots of politics. Lots of anxiety and fear. Not enough joy. Reality is cruel right now. But humor dots the feed and photos grace the stream of entries, like landscapes, quilts, food, and grandkids. One story breaks my heart, but it’s someone’s birthday today and someone else’s anniversary. Just knowing there are such people there, everyday at any time, is consoling.

The warmth of the coffee cup feels good in my hand; the coffee is brewed to perfection. And now bolstered by caffeine and friends of good will, I begin to look forward to the new day – with hope.

Photos: My wonderful captain’s cup; our buddha cat with the last zinnia on a salt cellar; our Christmas cactus; the last of our cherry tomatoes from the garden.

P.S. Political joy found today as I was tweaking this post: Joy to the Polls (check it out).

From Resentment to Action

A close friend recently phoned to ask if we’d pick her up at the airport when she flies home for a family visit. Of course we will, but since the airport is about an hour away, we’re wondering what precautions to take. Should only one of us go? If only one, should she sit in the backseat? Can we acquire surgical gowns and gloves and even PPE respirators? Ok, maybe not the latter. I resent needing to think about such things.

A short while later, our handyman arrived to patch our roof; as always, he wasn’t wearing a mask. Then the next day in a small paint store, my husband noted to an acquaintance that he wasn’t wearing a mask; the normally nice-enough man grew hostile and exclaimed, “They’re lying to you!” An acquaintance of mine told me about a man behind her in a check-out line who was raving that the whole covid thing was a hoax.

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I resent that so many people aren’t wearing masks when they should. I resent that they don’t respect my health or community health or our overburdened healthcare workers. I resent that the president encourages such behavior and disrespects the leading infectious disease experts. One of the most outrageous statements Trump recently made was in this tweet, intended to disparage Biden: “He’ll listen to the scientists.” Duh!

I carry around far too many resentments these days, like not spending a few days away, as we usually do, for our anniversary; like not eating indoors at restaurants or attending social events; like not hugging our grandchildren who are missing out on so much. And I especially resent – and am horrified by – the needless deaths and illnesses due to a raging pandemic that didn’t have to be raging.

But resentment and its cousin whining don’t help a bit. Nor does ranting at the TV. And I’m not alone. I see lots of whining, anger, and fear on Facebook and Twitter. So I shared an image of a tiny Trump fleeing from a giant blue wave. That’s a great big hope – not at all an assured thing. To deal with my resentments, to lessen my whining, to tamp down my fears and expletive-sprinkled rants, I’m doing what I can to address the biggest thing I’ve ever faced: helping to save American democracy from the most corrupt and incompetent administration ever.

You can help too. In two weeks the vote results will begin coming in. But it’s not too late to swing into action. Here are examples of actions you can take – or continue to take:

  • Vote, if you haven’t already! I have. Now’s the time to make sure that our family and friends vote too. Get after them if they haven’t. Tell them why they should vote blue – healthcare, social security, decency, honesty, science, and so on – whatever issues matter to you and may well matter to them.
  • Volunteer to do phone banking (for example, see https://joebiden.com/call/).
  • Put Biden-Harris signs in your yard and signs for your regional Democratic candidates.
  • Share digital Biden-Harris ads with your social media friends, like this reassuring one (click). Or choose Lincoln Project ads, like this hard-hitting one (click), or Republicans Against Trump ads, like this classic former Trump voter selfie (click).
  • Donate to the Biden-Harris campaign, DCCC, and/or several Senate races. I’ve donated to a number of Senate candidates. Check out this USA Today article (click) to find Democratic candidates who have a chance to flip the Senate. I have several other favorites too: Al Gross (Alaska), Barbara Bollier (Kansas), and Mike Espy (Mississippi). Remember that without a Democratic House AND Senate, a Biden-Harris administration will have a much harder time repairing the ongoing destruction and moving us toward solving crucial problems like affordable healthcare and climate change mitigation.  

Also keep in mind that Trumpism will not quietly go away once Trump leaves the White House. The damage his administration has caused will not repair itself. Stand up, use your voice, and act for a better life for us all. And note that by getting involved now, you are preparing for the post-election fights ahead to put democracy back on track.

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” ~Ruth Bader Ginsburg

My photos: Portrait of our papier-mâché cat; Green Bay Women’s March, January 2018; our local Biden rally on the street Trump and his entourage passed when he visited Marinette, June 2020.

“where the person you least want to live with lives”

Vibrant fall leaves, blue sky, a pleasantly crisp breeze, but there’s no crispness in my step as I walk to the community garden. The news is filled with covid and our harvest has all but ended. Then I notice shadows on the asphalt ribbon of this one-car path, the breeze allowing branches to tease their shapes in the mottled sunlight. The shadows change with each step. I focus on the dark, switch to the light, then look for the overall pattern. I am fully in this moment. And I am happy.

The tranquil feeling stays with me as I leave the wooded area into full sunlight on a well-traveled road.  Suddenly I shudder. I try to shrug it off. There they are across the road, four Trump signs lined parallel to the road, each different, on a nicely kept lawn. Above the front porch, three large flags ruffle in the breeze – a Trump flag in the middle, flanked by a grayish blue and white American flag and one sporting two crossed assault rifles in white on a black background.

I don’t understand the shrine-like adulation of Trump displayed here and elsewhere in our community. I recoil from such displays. Toward such neighbors, I harbor bad feelings, bordering on hostility. They’re people I don’t even know. I can’t seem to help it. Yet, the abundance of Trump signs in one yard unsettles me. Farewell, tranquility.

As I’m nursing my dismay, a youngish bearded man emerges from behind the house and walks toward the road carrying a recycling bin. It’s garbage day. Good, he recycles. That’s a plus. I call, “Hello,” and smile. He smiles back, a warm smile on a genial face, and says, “Hi.”

I feel better. I imagine that he’s an overall good man who loves his family and friends, as well as his community and country. I believe he’s a hard worker because during other walks to the garden over the summer, I saw his steady progress on the shed he built in the back. It’s a narrow barn-like structure with a loft that has a circular window. A charming structure that’s almost finished. I admire it. I admire his skill and aesthetic sense.

I don’t, however, admire my neighbor’s political sense – yet I do respect him as a fellow human being. I don’t know his story. I don’t know why he believes that Trump is the political answer to his needs and those of his family and country. But I do know that he’s a member of my community.

As Parker J. Palmer said about community members, “Often they will be persons who will upset our settled view of self and world. In fact, we might define true community as that place where the person you least want to live with lives.”

So I look ahead, admire the golden, red, and orange maples I’m approaching. I continue walking to the garden, there to be grateful for the abundance of food and the meaningful moments of work it has given me and my fellow community gardeners.

Tranquility restored, for now.

Photos at the community garden in October: our zinnias and okra stalks; Sheila & Steve’s kale; Ann & Tom’s Swiss chard