Wednesday, October 15, 2014
What are you afraid of?
by Connie Goodbread, Southern Region UUA Congregational Life staff
“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance…”
Remember, on a dark Halloween night when the moon is on the wane, if someone comes knock, knock, knocking at your door, whatever you do - don’t let them kiss you! This was the end of the Half Dead Joe story that was told by Jim Barefoot every year at the Halloween party for the congregation I served. As the story goes, Joe was a member of the congregation who had been kissed on a dark Halloween night when the moon was on the wane by Mavis, who was half dead. This story was a great hit with everyone but it was especially important to a group of 5 year old boys. They had all heard the story the year before but at 5 they knew it was real. At 5 they were really scared. They screamed at all the right moments in the story. They hid their eyes and peeked out between their fingers. They hunted for the clues that would prove that the story was real. They played Half Dead Joe on the playground all year long. They asked all kinds of questions.
Two of the parents of these boys came to me and asked me to explain to all the boys that it was all a big fake, a lie. I have to admit that I was taken aback by this. I could tell that they were concerned about how afraid their son was. I struggled with what to say to them.
Here’s what went through my mind; This is the safe place where each of us should bring our fears, not run from them. This is the safe place where we should explore them and come to grips with them. This is the safe place where we should struggle with them, learn more about ourselves because of them. This is the safe place where we should not get in the way of the the struggle but should support and honor that struggle. These children were thrilled by this story. They loved being scared by it and here were their parents asking me to tell them “the truth”.
I began by asking them what they were trying to do. They, of course, wanted their son to be less afraid and less obsessed with the story. They thought his fear was over the top. I talked with them about what I saw in their son. I saw a child coming to grips with his fear in a very real way. I saw a child exploring his fear, play acting all the parts in the story, learning what each character was like. I saw a very healthy struggle. I also said that it went against every thing I think that is right to do with and for the children. To get in the way of their struggle would be to tell them they can’t do it. We should comfort them, teach them, be honest with them about our fears and our struggles, but we should let them have their struggle in this safe and loving community.
We went on to talk about the truth. What is the truth? The truth is that the Half Dead Joe story had hit a chord with this group of boys. The truth is that stories reach down deep into our hearts and souls and pull something up out of us that we can all learn from. Children understand this about stories. Adults often forget. After our talk we all decided that we would let it play out.
When this band of boys turned 7 they came to me and told me that they had written a play that they wanted to present at the Halloween party right after Jim told the Half Dead Joe story. They were in charge of the props and the sets. The whole church school helped them put the set together. They kept the plot to themselves as a surprise. Although we did practice with the microphone and showed them how to make sure that everyone could hear the lines and see the action. We closed off the social hall and let them practice in private.
The big night came. Everyone came in costume. We had blood punch, giant’s fingers and meatballs that looked like eyeballs. We had scary music that we danced to and a haunted graveyard put on by the teen group. Jim got up and told the story. A new group of 5 year olds screamed at all the right moments. The boys got up to do their play. It was a sweet play about how scary things can be and that even when we are afraid there is always a right and a wrong way to treat those we love. Half Dead Joe was a member of our congregation. We love him and we need to help him, support him and be more understanding. It was one of the sweetest moments of my service with that congregation.
If only we adults could work through our fears with such openness and honesty. How much better might the world be? How much deeper might we love?
What are you afraid of?