Halloween is spooky. It’s a scary time, a time to be afraid.
We dress in costumes and try to look like hideous creatures from horror movies. We decorate with ghastly gravestones and creepy cobwebs. At our parties, we serve finger food made to look like real fingers and eyeballs and offer our ghoulish guests a fresh glass of “blood.” We shiver and scream our way through the haunted houses that seem to spring up on every corner this time of year. For many of us the common emotional response on the last day in October is a sort of playful form of fear.
When I was a young kid, I was afraid of hanging my hands over the side of bed at night because I was sure something was lurking under my bed just waiting to grab me. I hid my face in my hands during particularly scary movie scenes, and I wouldn’t go into a basement by myself at night even with the light on.
Eventually I grew out of most of my childhood fears (although I’m still a little wary of what is under the bed) and even learned to revel in the sensation of being scared out of my wits.
My favorite time of the week became Friday night, partly because there was no school the next day and partly because “Nightmare Theater” with Sammy Terry was on.
At 11:30, I would turn off all the lights and snuggle up on the couch while Sammy commenced his reverb-drenched evil laugh as he introduced that night’s feature film, which was usually some cheesy B-movie like “The Amazing Colossal Man vs. The 50-Foot Woman.”
Like Halloween, it was the fun kind of scary.
In its proper place, fear is a valuable part of our emotional arsenal. It is a survival mechanism that makes us wary of impending threats, dangers and pain. Evolutionary scientists claim we are hardwired to fear snakes and spiders. Fear helped keep our ancient ancestors alive and has its uses for us moderns, as well. Fear causes us to stop and think before we act.
More often than not, though, fear is a barrier that keeps us from getting what we really want and becoming who we really are.
And fear can be dangerous. For example, I always get a little bit anxious when I have to go to the doctor’s office. Apparently, this is a common fear among men. According to some statistics, although men are roughly 50 percent of the population they account for only 40 percent of doctor visits. This resistance to visit a doctor might be part of the explanation for why men on average die several years sooner than women do.
Rationally, I know that it is a good and healthy plan to see my doctor at least once a year, and yet I still get nervous as I am walking into his office. But the thing is once a year I face my fear and make that walk through his door.
That’s the little secret about fear: It can be overcome. Mark Twain said, “Courage is the resistance to fear, the mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.”
Fear is part of our nature, and yet our wisdom traditions insist that to live fully, one must get rid of it. I read somewhere that out of the 125 commands or imperatives Jesus uttered, 21 of them urged us not to be afraid. The Buddha said that the whole secret of existence is to have no fear. The Hindu scriptures known as the Upanishads say the same thing. Secular minds from Aristotle to Einstein to Yoda from “Star Wars” have echoed these thoughts.
Therefore, I must believe along with Franklin D. Roosevelt that on this Halloween night and on every night that follows, the only thing I have to fear is fear itself.
Well, that and whatever is lurking under my bed.
Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.