By Amy Butler
It’s funny how different seasons of life can hold totally different experiences, constant invitations to reflect on the gift and adventure of human life, ongoing opportunities to consider — and shift — how we live.
I was just reflecting: had you checked in with me this week about 16 years ago, you’d have found me elbow-deep in pumpkin guts, busy assembling chocolate chip banana ghosts for the preschool Halloween party, and trying to figure out how the 5-year-old was going to make it around the neighborhood trick or treating with his heavy dinosaur costume tail dragging behind him.
Just days before Halloween this year I have not given much thought at all to carving a pumpkin, much less the logistics of anybody dressing up as a dinosaur. Instead of levity, the atmosphere seems a bit more somber.
For one thing, there just seems to be a lot of pain and grief floating around: friends sharing memories of loved ones who have died, congregational volunteers tearfully touring me through the columbarium, folks coming to my office to tell me about their own terminal diagnoses and all the deep questions that come with thinking about the end of life.
Or maybe the voice of lament is louder in my own ears this year. This has been a year of tremendous loss in my own life, including the sudden death of my 38-year-old brother and much significant transition.
Whatever the cause, this time of year that has been previously defined for me by an annual strategic effort to acquire as many Snickers bars as possible now seems shaped by the pain of loss that colors every human life. For me, it has been a shift of focus from a sugar-laced Halloween full of excitement to more of a pensive, All Saints kind of remembrance.
This realization had me lamenting what feels a bit like loss of innocence; but perhaps this somber realization is a sort of gift. While a preoccupation with rigging dinosaur tails is fun, seeing the shadows and feeling the pain of human life can lead to some important reflection and maybe even opportunities to really savor the considerable joy of human life with a clarity we were unable to summon before.
This year I am pondering: important and wise people who have impacted my life; the things that matter — and the things that really don’t matter as much as I thought they did; how I’m spending my time and my money and whether those expenditures reflect what I value; the ways in which I am participating in the work of God in this world — or not.
This year is much more All Saints than Halloween. Pain and loss, the shadow of grief, the stark realization of human mortality — all of these have made it so. But I am wondering if perhaps in some way these are gifts. While there hasn’t been much consideration of creative Halloween costumes this year, there have been deep thoughts about legacy and more paying attention to what matters.
I think it’s true: when we can manage to live with an awareness that our time here on earth is finite, that we don’t have forever to resolve broken relationships or tend to unhealed pain or begin to make better choices, perhaps it’s then that we actually start living.
Which leads me to consider: there are a couple of days left. Now that I’m remembering all of these important things, it seems even more imperative to carve a pumpkin, or take a walk through the park in the falling leaves, or dig up that dinosaur costume to pass along to somebody else who might be able to fix the tail situation.