I have to admit that I’m beginning to feel…unsettled. Not panicky – no, never that. Not even anxious, frightened, or apprehensive. Just a little churned up. The feeling is not running into the night with me under one arm, or grabbing me and dragging me under the bed or into the air conditioner intake vent (two of my more common fears as a child). It just pokes me occasionally, to let me know it’s there and thinking about me.
When I was young, I loved Halloween. The meaning and history of the holiday were lost on me, and it was not a scary holiday. Instead, it was a chance to roam the neighborhood at will, seeing things and going places I visited during the day but which held a special newness and excitement at night. From the time I was seven or eight until I was twelve, I bid my parents goodbye as the sun set, and didn’t show up at home again until people stopped answering their doorbells, at 9:30 or 10 PM. It was a very different time – if my parents ever worried about me, I didn’t know it, and my only restrictions were that I couldn’t keep unwrapped candy or apples (I grew up thinking that every apple I received on Halloween had a razor blade in it, although I never heard of that actually happening to anyone). Mysteriously, all the $100,000 Bars and Hershey’s Minis also disappeared from the evening’s haul, and I didn’t know to blame my mother until she confessed years later.
I received my first real kiss on Halloween night (“real” being defined as not followed by either a punch in the nose delivered by the lucky girl, or a chorus of “ooh, gross” from onlookers on the playground). Khaki Veasey, I don’t know what ever happened to you, but you set the standard until the spring of 1984 – that’s another story, though.
Halloween was pure freedom to me; limitless opportunity, unknown joys to be had, something wonderful at every door and around every corner. I occasionally would stumble across my brother Ken and his friends, out on the town and unreachably far away in time – SIX WHOLE YEARS older than me. Ken was always good to me, but he seemed especially welcoming on Halloween, as if he knew what I was feeling. I loved knocking on strangers’ doors, and I liked peeking inside to see how they lived as much as I liked the candy they gave me. Christmas and Easter held their own charms, but to me, Halloween represented the promise of the unknown future, of a world that was hidden but not threatening, of unbounded potential.
Too soon, my own circumstances changed radically, and the world changed little by little, and Halloween lost its special charm for me. I still remember the feeling of roaming the nighttime world, though, surrounded by friends, feeling both that I could meet any challenge that I encountered, and that the challenges would all be small enough for me to overcome. I misplaced that confidence for a while, but a glimmer of what I felt on Halloween night helped me to endure some darker nights that followed.
So why do I feel unsettled? Part of the reason is the answer I gave today to a question Amy asks me almost every day: “So, what did you do today?”
I usually give her a laundry list of items and activities that, relatively speaking, are not like they used to be, but are not so bad nonetheless. “I worked on an airplane, Izzy and I went on a long walk, I went to the grocery store, I vacuumed the house (actually, I pushed the button, and the Roomba vacuumed the house – endlessly fascinating), I wrote some (I’m writing a novel, mostly to see if I can)…” or whatever it was that day. Usually, it’s just one thing, almost never more than two.
Today, although I was joking, I said, “Well, I put my pants on.”
I actually DID put my pants on – I wasn’t joking about that part. However, later I realized that last week, I didn’t put my pants on more days than I did. That’s disturbing, especially if you’ve seen me without pants (sorry for the imagery – I’m making a point).
My world is shrinking, and although that’s partly unavoidable, some of the shrinkage IS within my control. PD is insidious and relentless, and in some ways it’s like a boa constrictor. Boas don’t kill by crushing their prey with one mighty squeeze – they wait until you relax slightly and exhale, and then they tighten up just a little so your next breath isn’t as deep. Then they wait for you to relax again, and when you do, they tighten just a little more. Eventually, you can’t inhale at all. That’s unhealthy.
I’ve been relaxing, and PD is squeezing as I do. I don’t exercise as much as I should…squeeze. I don’t eat right…squeeze. I don’t get out and mix it up with the world enough, volunteering or just visiting with friends…squeeze. And I don’t put my pants on every day…BIG squeeze.
The “why” behind this laziness, I realized this evening, has to do with Halloween. I have stopped seeing the world as limitless, full of opportunity, and unbounded. I suspect I know the reasons why: current events (no political judgment, just a recognition that sometimes the world makes no damn sense), loss of capability from Parkinson’s, and a current health scare unrelated to Parkinson’s (SURPRISE! having PD doesn’t exempt you from other maladies – probably nothing, but c’mon – give a guy a break).
As a person of relatively new faith, I sometimes forget that faith is made to be relied on – it’s a limitless, unbounded wellspring of hope when you run out, and it’s free for the asking. So, as odd as it may sound, I’m relying on faith to renew my “Halloween spirit.” Even if you and I don’t really understand, I’m confident God does. And that gives me not only the strength to keep going, but the desire to keep reaching. According to Robert Browning, “ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp; else, what’s a Heaven for?”
Who am I to disagree? Iz and I will see you at the park, and I’ll have a salad in your name. And the best of the Halloween spirit to you.