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Preparing to celebrate fear

Oct 24, 2013 - By Clair McFarland

Or, as we refer to it at my house, Halloween

With Halloween preparing to rampage, this seems like a good time to write about fear.

The subject is especially relevant to me right now because my children are consumed with the task of distinguishing between the macabre decorations that we see at the stores, and real-life zombies. Of course, at ages 1 and 3, they don't know about zombies, but the concept seems to be universally inborn.

As my older son likes to say, "those decorations are too serious for me." I agree, perhaps because I process many life issues with a 3-year-old mindset. Call it an occupational hazard.

Here my disdain for the corpse-party side of Halloween surfaces. A Freudian would say this developed on my first trick-or-treat outing, when I was the world's happiest fairy queen until a teen-aged Dracula thought it would be fun to "rawr" at me in a most startling manner.

However, Dracula attack or not, I cannot see the purpose for festivities that celebrate, create and emphasize those fears of ours that will never benefit or motivate us.

For instance, I am afraid of harm coming to my children, of living in a society wherein everyone thinks him- or herself mentally superior to James Madison (and other framers of the Constitution), and of undercooking pork.

Sometimes in life I find my babies sheltered, my journal cynical, and my pork chops charred. But none of these side effects is without its benefits, and I cling to these rational fears in order to proceed with healthy caution. My fears stem from real threats, not plastic faces.

Here I'll throw The Husband under the bus, or as I see it, mention the things I love about him as useful examples.

He once suffered for an agonizing month after having been afflicted with hobo poison. You spider buffs know I'm not talking about a train-hopping apothecary, but a west-coast arachnid with a fearsome bite.

The result is that The Husband -- the man who will take on any threat, hang Christmas lights on high roof-tops, and ride a motorcycle at felony speeds -- has severe arachnophobia.

This detail of our life together has endowed us with a peculiar collection of spider-killing anecdotes, in all of which I get to be the perpetual heroine -- save for two. I'll share briefly:

Seven years ago, when we were dating, The Husband spotted a spider crawling in my hair and, with one grab, swept it out for me. Knowing of his fear of spiders, I decided that he'd acted gallantly and that I'd marry him one day.

And two weeks ago, I found a little brown spider suspended from my kitchen radio by her thread, so I pinched her into a Kleenex. Because it was The Husband's birthday, and the spider had become such a symmetrical corpse, I decided to present her to him after he finished the cribbage tournament in which he was then engaged.

Pregnant girls do not outlast the late-night adventures of cribbage tournaments, and I went to bed soon after making the kill. When morning came, I had forgotten all about the pretty corpse in the Kleenex, but I did know I was feeling very congested ...

The point is, one man's rational fears have the ability to shape and even improve his life by giving him a distinct character, a little human vulnerability, and a few stories to tell.

Yet, as the spiders react to their fear of the cold and seek refuge in our house this October, we are shunning the case of the heebie-jeebies brought about by the children's encounters with dark "fun."

While an expert could probably tell me that there is some obscure, fanciful benefit to exposing little ones to ghoulish death decor long before they have any real reasons for fear in this life, I am sure that spider-killing is enough of a Halloween rampage for us.

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