It is my favorite time of year. No season, no holiday, no celebration can hold a candle to fall and even Halloween in my eyes.
It began, I think, as most favored traditions do, with my parents love of it. They had an autumn wedding, in the falling foliage of a Virginia October.
Dad’s birthday was in November.
And so I think for a lot of reasons, autumn was a very warm and festive time for my family as a young girl.
My dad was also a prankster, and a jokester. It’s really a wonder that my Mom didn’t die of a heart attack first. Jump scares out of the closet where his thing, and it fit perfectly with Halloween. I can still here my mom yelling, “John!” In a loud mix of surprise, exasperation and love, and his cackling guffaws quick after.
But his love of books fit too. And I remember as soon as the leaves started turning we would read Washington Irvings Sleepy Hollow, and watch the old Disney cartoon. And long before Tim Burton did it, Jeff Goldblum adapted it to film , and we would watch the glorious 80s rendition of the American Classic. Where Ichabod woos Kirsti Alley.
My mom would sing me five little pumpkins in her lap, and together we would all decorate our old Victorian house with the smell of mulled wine and cinnamon brooms wafting in the air.
We would rake up the sweetly decaying leaves and fill up orange trash bags shaped like pumpkins. My favorite thing to do.
There was something exciting about being just afraid enough, to crawl into the safety of my parents laps to feel comforted again. Practice fear.
My dad would carve pumpkins before kits and patterns were a thing, with gourds as noses and ears.
But then he died. In a September no less. The very beginning of fall.
He fell away like the most beautiful leaf.
And so, keeping Halloween alive, as a little girl, meant keeping him alive too.
Each fall had a bucket list. A list of things I knew he loved, and I would carry on in his memory.
But Halloween became something else too. It was a time when I wasn’t the only one thinking big things about death and decay and graves.
Graves are fun to think about at Halloween. Spooky.
But my family had just dug one.
And gravestones and inscriptions are great decorations. Funny.
But we had just purchased one.
You can’t talk about these thing openly. I learned that quick. Strangers don’t want to hear about what your Daddy’s headstone says. People don’t want to hear your questions about embalming and cremation.
“Stop, you’re scaring the other kids.”
And it makes others uncomfortable when you worry out loud about seeing your dads spirit. I used to be so afraid he would come back to say goodbye. Other kids would ask if my house was haunted now that my Dad had died there. But God doesn’t work that way, and he certainly doesn’t laugh at little girls prayers to keep her daddy in heaven where he belongs.
No. Death is hard for everyone. Kids and grownups, old and young.
But at Halloween, in fall, we are reminded of the letting go of dead things.
The year is passing away now, and we prepare for the harsh winter. We warm our hearts and our homes with pies and cinnamon and cider. We preserve what we can and must enjoy what’s left over quickly. We cling just a little closer, because everywhere there are reminders that it won’t last.
And we can ask the macabre questions. We have space to talk about things like coffins and graves and ghosts. And sure, it’s all fun, but as a kid, my vocabulary suddenly wasn’t off limits. I wasn’t weird. I fit in. And then, best of all, I could pretend to be someone else.
I always had a handful of costumes. Because the world felt different in each one. And I could forget that death was a real specter my little life and play act that it was all a game, just like everyone else. For just one night.
A woman now, much of my love for fall hasn’t changed. But it’s not the pumpkin spice lattes and boots and chic scarves that I look forward . No, there is a grief about fall. It’s solemn. The crispness in the morning a reminder that winters cold grasp is on its way and the days of the year are numbered. A bittersweet change is in the air.
Once again my weirdness stands out a little less. Colorful hair and tattoos are a bit more acceptable. And everyone loves Jack Skelington.
I’m too serious. I know that. And I often think too deeply. I err on the side of the morbid and macabre. I find beauty in the strange and broken and abandoned, because I grew up always seeing what was missing, what was passing. Even as I enjoy something, I’m keenly aware of its passing. I realize each moments, will quickly become a memory. And I try to savor harder. Leaves were always falling in my eyes, but in fall everyone sees what I see. Everyone sees the beauty in the letting go. The beauty in the dying off. The beauty that even exists somehow in grief. The beauty in decaying leaves in piles in the ground.
And so I read the books, still. I’ve added to my list. Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, Jekyl and Hyde. If winter is the season of the soul, fall is the season of Gothic Literature.
Great sweeping romance juxtaposed against great grief.
And I think that’s why fall is so important. Why grief is so important.
This is why God tells us, to everything there is a season.
Because the romances are profound, for having overcome darkness.
Spring is all the sweeter, after months of bare trees and ice.
And our time together as families, huddled around our hearths and our pumpkins, means all the more, when we realize it’s fleeting.
The life that Jesus has given us, means eternity, when we were once already dead in our sins.
Kids grow. People die. Families change.
Change is inevitable. The trees in our lives will lose their leaves. Sometimes during great storms, other times slowly and softly so we don’t even notice until we are laid bare.
A golden and red and gold crown of glory will blaze brightly, and then wither.
But God always makes a way. He sees the spring ahead, after the barren winter.
Christ himself overcame the grave.
And he calls us out of our own deadness.
And that’s why I love Autumn. It is a reminder, that the dead things in life, don’t have to stay dead.
And we don’t have to stay in the coffins we build around ourselves.
Christ left the grave, and so can we.
Death is no longer a specter haunting our lives, because our Savior has overcome it.
So we can laugh a little and take liberties asking big questions free from fear.
And our lives will shine brighter, for having come through the darkest and shortest days of the year, or of our lives.
A promise that new fruit will grow.
And in the mean time, we can cling to the ones we love most, and tell stories about when we thought we were overcome;
By headless horsemen, and ghosts in the attic, and monsters of our own making,
Allegories of when we were dead in our sin.
Or we thought all was lost
But God rescued us from the grave.
Because instead of a headstone, Jesus had an angel asking.
Why do you seek the living among the dead?
So this fall let the dead things fall away.
Step out of the grave.
Stop seeking life in the dead things.
And shine bright in the darkness
Until a warmer season comes.
Because there is something beautiful, when we lay ourselves bare before our Savior, and he rakes up the dead leaves in our lives, and prepares us for a time when we will grow again. Strong and mighty and warm.
And these dark days, will just be another ghost story.
So shine bright, and let go.