Halloween has yet to arrive, but thanks to face book I’ve already seen a small humanoid butterfly vampire, a ballerina vampire, and an icing-covered sweet vampire.
No doubt due to the season, I’ve been thinking about why people are drawn to scary experiences, movies, things, etc. and like to dress-up in scary costumes. I personally am NOT drawn to being scared, I have enough trouble sleeping at night, thank you very much. There are enough realities of my own life and in the world at large which I find disturbing without seeking out anxiety producing stimulus. But that’s just me. I tend to dress as a clown on Halloween, though I have been seen as a not-so-scary witch.
Of course what is deemed scary by one person another might find humorous, exhilarating, or just plain ordinary. Early in my life-in-the-woods a visiting friend, walking to the barn with me as I went to milk Daisy the cow, commented, “How can you stand to live here alone and be scared all the time?” The implication was that being out in Nature, at night, in the dark, was a scary experience, especially alone. I loved my life in the woods and did not think about being scared; if the thought came to me I put it out of my mind. Back then the only time I would be scared in Nature was if I was in a campground with some weird person nearby. Fear to me was usually related to spooky behaving people, a product of a more urban lifestyle. The focus of the nightly news certainly reinforced my way of thinking. Since then I have, at times, had some anxieties about life here in the woods, but mostly due to incidents involving people, (though the cougar encounter reminded me Nature also has scary, unpredictable characters).
According to my trusty Apple dictionary, the origin of the word ‘scare’ is the Old Norse word skirra meaning ‘frighten’. The flight-or-fight instinctual response to something that frightens us, found in humans and other life forms, is a hard-wired survival response to something we deem threatening. Its purpose is to stimulate adrenalin and create the conditions for quick, decisive action in life-threatening situations, enabling us to protect ourselves or others. It is supposed to diminish as the threat passes. The common explanation for modern-day stress is our bodies and brains activating this response to perceived threats that don’t necessarily go away, (as the attacking lion might) or that has any immediate out come or resolution, (as killing or being killed by the lion might). Thus, we remain in a constant state of flight-or-fight, aka stress. The really frightening thing is what this does to our bodies, our minds, relationships, and every aspect of our lives. Real life scares to people today are often unseen, unidentified, and not easily resolved.
The 1979 windstorm here in Washington brought down the Hood Canal Bridge and toppled trees everywhere, including across my porch and on my chicken-coop. It brought a healthy dose of flight-or-fight response that came and went, allowing me to take quick, decisive actions, helping myself and friends. (I have deep empathy for those on the east coast and their experiences the past few days). To those who lose loved ones, or homes, in natural disasters, it may not seem so, but Nature does play fair…the threat goes away, we can breath again, the adrenaline subsides along with the wind and the water, or the retreating lion.
Perhaps that scary movie or book gives folks the satisfaction of experiencing fear with resolution, unlike the often unnamed, unresolved fears of the modern world. And if the outcome is not so favorable to the hero, it’s his or her life, not ours! A sort of ‘have your cake and eat it too’ experience of fear, stress, and release, then close the book, the movie is over. Dare devil sports enthusiasts experience first hand fear and resolution.
While avoiding the gory haunted houses and the re-runs of horror movies, I’ll enjoy the jack o’lanterns and lighter side of Halloween, but keep an eye out for the vampire butterflies and ballerinas, though they can usually be won over and are prone to giggles… perhaps this is true of all our scary demons! Children who want to be a scary vampire, but temper it with a butterfly or dancing alter-ego, might just be attempting to balance the scary, dark side of life with the life-affirming light side. I wish them and you a Happy Halloween!