In fact, I'm supposed to go out tonight to hear someone speak but I'm actually considering staying home and skipping the talk. Is this ridiculous or what?!
When I told my friends about this, they all laughed at it, surprised that I would be feeling this way, and to be honest, I was just as surprised as they were. Why was I feeling this way? It was quite unsettling, more so the fact that I was scared than the fear itself, but when I took a closer look at the issue it became quite clear what was causing this irrational anxiety.
As a kid it was understandable to be scared. We were told that bad things happened to people who were out that night. But these weren't just things said to scare us. The local yeshiva actually sent the kids home early on Halloween so no one would be out after nightfall. Besides the innocent mischief like TP'ing a house or spraying shaving cream, vandalism and violence were common, or so we were told. My parents instructed us never to open the door that night, no matter who was knocking. Additionally, my first year of high school I attended a yeshiva where many years earlier someone had actually been murdered on Halloween. Ever since, the week of Halloween every yeshiva guy walking the few blocks from the dorm to the beis medrash had a police escort to accompany him. So with these early impressionable experiences, its easy to see how I could have gained such an ambivalent view of the day (and no doubt a few horror movies along the way didn't help matters much).
After that first year of high school, I attended yeshivas where the bochurim were on a private campus and pretty much isolated from the larger community. We probably weren't even aware of it when Halloween passed us by. The years after high school I was in Israel during Halloween, where nobody even acknowledges it whatsoever.
So this year, finding myself back in the US of A, is the first time since the age of 13 that I am really experiencing an actual Halloween. And after thinking about it, I realized that the reason I'm feeling scared is because I'm still looking at Halloween through the eyes of a frightened 13 year old. Because I haven't actually encountered, or even thought about the holiday all these years, I still have the same juvenile sentiments that I had about it all those years ago, when my last impressions were sincere dread and fear. What I needed to do is reexamine the issue with a mature perspective. It seemed absurd, but evidently there were irrational, childish fears that because they were never thought about or addressed, had lain dormant within me for many years, never being resolved the way other such notions had been.
This lesson really drove home a point I once wrote about in a previous blog post. As I said there:
"...there are still myriad areas of thought and experience that I haven't adjusted my perspective on. For the most part, this is because I haven't had any opportunities to seriously reexamine these issues and feelings. Changing ones lifestyle and society can raise many issues that one needs to clarify and take sides on, but there remain countless other areas which are just not touched on by the events and experiences of everyday life. Additionally, the sheer volume of ideas, habits, perspectives, and tendencies that the frum world inculcates in their followers makes it practically impossible for a person to totally undo all the subtle, yet deeply rooted, effects they have on one's psyche."So many ideas are drilled into us in our youths. Some overtly, some subtly, most very deeply. If we don't directly face these issues, they will stay with us forever, lying quietly within our hearts and minds, waiting for the moment, probably many years later when we least expect them, to resurface and wreak havoc in our lives, our daily routines, our relationships. They will throw us off balance, causing us to question ourselves and misstep. It's imperative to understand these long forgotten patterns of thought and undo them before they can affect us adversely. Like our rabbeim taught us about doing teshuva - it's like cleaning for chametz: You have to vigorously hunt for every possible trace of it, dig deep down to find it, and then when you do, you have to work hard to eradicate it and it's influence on you.
Rebbe, I accept your teaching. Have a most Happy Halloween! ;-)
Follow-Up From The Day After: I actually had a wonderful time all day long, seeing all the kids decked out so cute and the adults with some wild and wacky costumes was tons of fun and actually reminded me of Purim in Jerusalem. I was in midtown in the evening and the crowd was just so lively and fun. It was great! The subways and streets were just full of delightful sights. There was nothing uncomfortable about it whatsoever, and besides easily helping me overcome my irrrational phobia, experiencing all this also reinforced my belief that so much of what I was taught in my youth about non-Jews is such a bunch of sh*t. And just in case someone might say that no adults actually still believe that crap, I'll add that I spoke to a frum relative that evening and when I described my experience, he was shocked that there was anything enjoyable about it. He wasn't risking going out unless it was absolutely necessary.