you are four years old, and your hair curls in front of your eyes, and your head hurts from an unaccustomed headband, which hold up your antennae. On your back are the most glorious, carefully crafted wings of a monarch butterfly, and you are in the last months of innocence when it does not occur to you that you might look more like a woolly-bear caterpillar in your black leotard than like the elegant creature you have chosen to portray.
You sit, leaning over the radiator, catching the warmth, trying not to get burnt. The cat purrs in front of you, as you pull the curtain back time and again, watching the streetlights go on, jumping at each passing car: is he home yet?
Because that’s when Hallowe’en begins: when your father gets home from the office. Early, for him; late, for you. Other fathers with other young children are already out there. You’re getting worried that the pumpkin isn’t carved yet, and that it might all be over before you begin.
But then he comes.
And the pumpkin is quickly carved, and placed in the window so that your mother can answer the door as you and your father go out, out into the night.
Out into the unknown. Way beyond what is possible any other day of the year.
In a world where children are seldom allowed out, seldom walk the neighbourhood, and never at night this is a time for breaking boundaries.
It’s scary, being sent up the long path to strangers’ front doors. Ringing the bell. Having to speak.
And sometimes, it doesn’t seem worth it. Other, older braver kids rush up behind you, shouting ‘trick-or-treat’ and the push and act like fools and it is awful. But you have to keep going, keep pulling and tugging and wishing in the right direction, because there’s that one house, off to the left of the road that normally marks your boundaries. It is a grey house with a pointy roof and a big porch. There was a tag-sale there once, and you got a wide flat basket for carrying flowers. And tonight, tonight there will be cobwebs, and spiders, and witches in their pointy hats, and pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins. And the strange old lady comes to the door, all in black, wearing a velvet hat, and you wonder : is she really a witch?
And if you’re lucky, the moon is full, and the air is just a bit too cold, and you can see your breath and scuff through the… sniff through the leaves.
It is a night when you meet fear and are told ‘don’t be afraid’.
when you encounter strangers,
and you may never know who they are,
but you are told ‘it’s all right’.
when you dare to knock on unknown doors,
and the people inside open them, are kind to you
and give you things.
It is a night of sheer grace.