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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Things That Go Bump in the Night

William Temple - Archbishop of Canterbury (1944)

I admitted on Facebook last week, not without some trepidation, that I am not, nor have I ever been, a Halloween person.  Don't get me wrong; I like candy as much as the next person, and don't mind a clever, cute or sexy costume (my co-worker and her husband outdo themselves each year with a punny. costume-for-two (think "the fork in the road" or "deer in the headlights") that is an institution in their lake community.  It's the creepy-crawly-undead stuff I can do without.  I know I am squarely in the minority in this, considering that Americans reportedly spent $6.9 billion on candy, costumes and giant inflatable spiders this year.

It's part of a pattern: I don't like horror movies, I follow a proud family tradition of steering clear of the biology lab on dissection day (well, except for mom, who earned a nursing degree!), and I try to avoid "dressing up as" anything that involves makeup or a wig.  Hell, my "dressed up" look tends to skip right to the end of the wedding, with collar open and tie askew, but that's a shortcoming for another day.

I struck gold with the Archwarden in this regard, because every year he amasses a lot of candy and then no kids come to the door, which may be because he has all the lights off and the shutters closed, but we're not sure.  He's even less inclined to make a spectacle of himself than I am, so I don't have to worry about him asking me to fill out the back half of a horse costume anytime soon.

Yeah, not gonna happen.
This year was typical in our non-observance: I uncharacteristically declined an invitation to spend a beautiful Saturday on the Asbury Park boardwalk, mostly because I would have been sharing it with 9,252 zombies.  They were able to break the Guinness Book record for such events without my assistance, thank you very much.  I went to the beach the next day instead when all the ghoulies were cleaned up and attending brunch.

I did, however, take advantage of the fact that the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, was the celebrant and preacher for All Saints Sunday at the beautiful and historic Church of St. Luke in the Fields in New York's West Village. In her sermon, which you can read here, she touches on the origins of Halloween, which was once called All Hallows' (saints') Eve.  All Saints' Day is officially November 1st (the next day) and she explained how the two events fit together:
"Lots of people have forgotten, or maybe never knew, that All Hallows Eve, the night before the Feast of All Saints, is a deeply Christian observance.  It’s not only about celebrating all the saints and [All Souls] those who’ve died in the last year, but it’s about what we do with scary things, including the bad dreams that wake us in the middle of the night or the reality that confronts us outside our front doors.  That what the ancient prayer is about, 'and from ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night, good Lord, deliver us.'"
I suppose that -- by making light of death, decay and all things possessed -- we could be coping with our anxieties about the things that keep us up at night.  For me, I don't need such additional stimuli: the real world and the stuff I churn up in my head is plenty. 

Add to this that I have not been able to lift weights, my normal means of tiring myself out enough to sleep soundly, since prior to my recent surgery.  That restriction was lifted Monday, to my great relief, and I was in the gym when I head the news of the latest gun-related incident to dominate the national news, and this one was right nearby.  A lone (or was it two? or five? the eyewitness reports varied widely) gunman walked into the Garden State Plaza, New Jersey's largest shopping mall, and fired several shots before disappearing somewhere inside (or outside... it was hours before anybody knew).

So much for sleeping! The mall is about 20 minutes from us and someone we know lives right on its perimeter in a ground floor apartment. Did she have her windows open?  We recently got a security system, but of course I could still speculate about how someone could defeat it and get in our house... and so it goes.

The mayhem that followed continued long into the night.  Police escorted terrified shoppers and employees outside while searching the giant facility room-by-room.  Some people were trapped in stockrooms and kitchens until early the next morning.

“Your fears they grew into a mountain
Where you're freezing alone at the top
Still I'll wait everyday at the bottom
Just to catch you the second you drop”

AM TAXI - "Tanner Boyle vs. the Seventh Grade"
It was 3:30 a.m. before the shooter was found dead by his own hand in a darkened storage area. As it turned out, he was not an Al-Qaeda wannabe or disgruntled ex-Abercrombie greeter dismissed because his waist size went up.  Instead, he was a 20-year-old pizza driver and aspiring model from a nearby town named Richard Shoop, who left no clear indication why he chose to take his own life, or why he chose to do it in such a dramatic way.  The gun belonged to his brother Kevin, who looked for it after discovering a note from Richard entitled "my will" and hearing reports of a shooting on the news.  When he confirmed the gun was missing, Kevin connected the dots and headed to the mall to warn police.

After the initial relief that we were not, in fact, under some kind of siege, my meant went back to Richard who - although I quite possibly bought a slice from him at some point in the past - would have probably never crossed my radar had he not seized the headlines. Despite being no stranger to post-adolescent angst, I could not help but wonder what inner demons would have driven him to such a desperate act.  As his friends gathered with candles and photos last night on Cedar Lane (Teaneck's Main Street) to remember him, I recalled Sunday's reading from Daniel and what the Presiding Bishop said about the monsters that inhabited his world, and ours:
"When Jesus says, “blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” he’s talking about that kind of home.  That irrevocable condition, that God-given birthright, is open to all, but we only find it by embracing and yearning for it.  Daniel’s demanding and destroying monsters aren’t likely to find it.  All the blessings Jesus spells out are about the road that takes us homeward, and the woes are about choosing paths that lead only to isolation and self-exclusion, and cutting ourselves off from that blessing.  Those blessings and woes are the story of the prodigal, who leaves home and discovers only mere existence."
May God rest Richard's troubled soul and bring comfort to those affected by his actions: his family and friends, the people caught in the mall, and all the public safety officials who walked unflinchingly into a very unclear situation to assist them.

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