October is here, autumn is in the air and America breaks out the masks. It seems to me that we have been wearing more masquerade gear year-round (most of it in the form of "emotional masking") and not just as the annual ghosts and goblins festival takes shape. When life gets more challenging, the more it we appear reluctant to be "real," connecting with others in our daily lives. It's easier to detach, retreat and hide out.
After 35 years in San Diego, I have come to enjoy the change of seasons, even though visitors assume we always have the same season 365 days a year. After some time here it's easier to see subtle shifts in surroundings, even colors in certain trees, as the air gets crisper. Other signs of seasonal changes are when most of Arizona returns home and fire season heats up. Sometimes the Chargers provide additional comfort or disaster, depending on the year. Then once it's Halloween, a blink of an eye takes us to Christmas and the year's over. At least this month can help serve as: "Caution: Slow down! Make today count!"
Considering the annual trick-or-treat event—what I have always referred to as "legalized extortion night"—my attitude has shifted a little. Halloween season still reminds me most of our national obsession with asking for freebies… "or else." I do think there should be some sort of age limit for door-to-door candy beggars. When 28-year-old "kids" show up ringing the doorbell late-night, it's time to call security. Then there's the creepier side of the holiday that gives too much glory to Satan's world. But when limited to innocent fun with young kids (like my grandchildren) dressed up in cute costumes, as opposed to assorted horror movie zombies, I am a bit more comfortable with Halloween. That is as long as the little ones are under parental care and in safe zones within family control.
Geezers and Gumbys
But back to the issue of masks and masquerades: Around town it seems the only new type of businesses springing up in today's economy are the short-term, temporary costume stores. Really, how many Halloween shops does a metro area need? There are "super stores" all around, with masks and get-ups for any taste. More people seem to be getting into the act, finding new outfits and masks to fit in to the action.
Even criminals are using more creative ways to conceal themselves, whether it's an infamous "Geezer Bandit" knocking over regional banks or the ill-fated "Gumby" who attempted to rob a local convenience store, but gave up after fumbling around trying to find a weapon inside the oversized green costume. At least it was humorous and no one was hurt (except Baby Boom adults who actually remember who Gumby was on TV).
There was still a lesson in the incident: Try as much as you like to cover up what's real, but sooner or later truth and consequences settle in.
Under the radar
For one night each year, and in additional pre-Halloween parties, millions enjoy trying to transform into someone else for a few hours. Masks allow alter egos to flourish and identities to be hidden. But don't we also do that year-round?
Remember the words that George Benson sang in his famous song:
Are we really happy here
With this lonely game we play
Looking for words to say?
Searching, but not finding understanding anyway
We're lost in a masquerade
I wonder if this also reflects our national attitude. After the past few years of shocks and meltdowns, nervousness and negativity, we often yearn to be someone … or somewhere ... else. It's more comfortable to hide out and appear more politically sensitive. It's easier to avoid more personal involvement in life if we're under the radar.
Think about how we disguise ourselves each day by putting on false facades. It's one thing to be optimistic and "put on a happy face" (since that does help improve mood), but it's quite another to use masking to keep away from relationships and sharing at a deeper level. Instead it's easier to detach from the needs of others and even try to hide from ourselves.
Our nation has been more obsessed than ever about looks, beauty and Botox, surgical adjustments and just about anything else to create a different exterior. But no matter what's happening on the outside, the core inside is what counts. And if the soul is out of whack, no amount of disguising or outside renovation matters.
This Halloween season maybe it's time to strip away the masks and embrace transparency in life, "warts and all." The fact is that God created each of us as unique individuals, equipped for relationships and ministry each day. All of the costumes and cover-ups don't change that one bit.
Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. He can be heard daily in San Diego on KCBQ 1170AM from 6 to 9 a.m., and on KPRZ 1210AM from 2 to 4 p.m. E-mail: email@example.com.
Published, October 2011