Halloween After Ms Sandy (A Short Story)

Print More

Ms Pearl lives directly below me in our apartment building in Orange, New Jersey. We exchange pleasantries at the mailbox or in the parking lot as we go about our day. She is a beautiful elder woman. I hope I look that good when I am her age, and it is hard to know just how old she is. She is perhaps in her late sixties or early seventies. She has snow white shoulder length dreadlocks and a lineless pecan brown face. There is a timeless quality about her. She radiates peace.
Hurricane Sandy was on the way, so the Saturday before the storm I stocked up on storm necessaries – food, bottled water, batteries, first aid kit. I had already packed a go bag and had my thumb drives and important papers in a lock box ready if I had to leave. When I passed Ms Pearl’s door on the way out, as usual, I smelled good food. Today it smelled of baking bread.
In contrast, I only turn on my stove to boil water for coffee, tea or hot chocolate. I eat what I buy from the hot food counter at the grocery store, or from the Chinese place I discovered a few years ago in East Orange. She lives alone and cooks. I live alone and I do not.
When the storm hit land, I was in bed. It is a family tradition to turn off the television or music or whatever and go to bed when a storm comes, whether it is an ordinary thunderstorm or a hurricane. God is doing God’s business, and the best thing to do is to be still. So, when Sandy came, the wind growled, and I slept. The storm passed and we were lucky. We lost power, but the trees did not fall down on us. We did not have to evacuate. Our building was still standing untouched. Later, talking on the telephone with my friend Debbie, she named the hurricane Ms Sandy. Give girlfriend her proper respect.
The radio suggested we check on our neighbors, so around mid-day I went down the steps to check on Ms Pearl.
“Come on in,” she said with a smile, full of energy. “I see it takes a storm for you to knock on an old lady’s door.”
“No ma’am. I just like to give people their space. I just wanted to check and make sure you were alright.”
“I’m good,” she said. “Please. Join me for a cup of tea.”
I stepped into a world of perfect peace and beauty. It was also old school with a wall full of LP vinyl albums, books, CDs and DVDs, a small television, CD/DVD player and a stereo. There were live plants and Afro-centric art. In her kitchen window, fresh herbs grew. The view from her kitchen window was the same as mine only a story lower.
She put the kettle on and gestured toward the chair for me to have a seat. “I am looking for my Halloween stuff,” she said as she rummaged through a hall closet. There were packages of Halloween candy on the table, a large Kwanzaa type basket with black and orange tissue paper on the table. “I am looking for my witch hat,” she said. “I do not expect the children to come out to trick or treat, but I think I will go to them. At least the kids in the building.”
She found her hat as the kettle whistled. She offered me a choice of several different teas – green tea, Earl Grey, rooibos. I chose rooibos; she had the Earl Grey.
“You enjoy Halloween?” I asked.
“I enjoy all the holidays. They give us a break from ordinariness. You need that from time to time, but Halloween is one of my favorites.”
“Why is that?”
“Who doesn’t like to play dress up? You get to be something you are not, or maybe we get to dress up as who we really are. But Halloween is also a time to see into another dimension.”
I was not quite sure where she was going with this, so I was quiet. She sounded serious and I wondered what she would say next.
“All Hallows Eve, the day before All Saints Day, is a time when the thin, silver string that separates the dimensions – good and evil, sacred and profane, life and death – is visible. We can see the differences clearly. Sometimes this is difficult.”
“I am cautious about declaring something evil. The moment we do this, there is no negotiation. The only thing to do with evil is total destruction,” I said. “Besides, who am I to judge?”
“No, the way to overcome evil is with good. More love,” she said. “And you have an obligation to judge. Your judgment cannot and ought not to condemn anyone to eternal oblivion. Only God can do this, but you have an obligation to use your discernment and see the silver line between good and evil, to discern truth from lies. And there is nothing that indicates the presence of evil more than lies.”
“Then we are looking at a truly evil political season,” I observed.
“Yes, the devil is a liar and the father of lies. I do not like to speak of the devil, but just as God is Love and Truth, the opposite of God is fear and lies.”
“You did not say hate is the opposite of love,” I said.
“No. The opposite of love is not hate. Hate and love are two sides of the same coin. It is fear that is the opposite of love and from fear comes violence.” She sipped her tea and continued.
“In the spiritual dimension lies are like flies in the natural world. Flies feed on garbage and sewage and decaying matter and living flesh and sap from plants. They transmit diseases from person to person. They contaminate food. In the spirit realm lies feed on our own corruption, on our fears and idolatry.”
“Idolatry?” I asked.
“Yes. Lies are emanations from the idols we erect in place of the God of Love and Truth, the Creator God, the Ultimate. We create idols that are not ultimate – material possessions, this or that title, this or that person, this or that position, religious doctrine when it becomes an end and not a means to an end, our own sense of self, even the country when we say we love it and we do not love its people, all of its people These are idols that emit lies.
“People will say ANYTHING and do ANYTHING to reach an idolatrous goal. My mother used to say if you will lie, you will steal; if you will steal, you will kill.”
“That is a bit harsh don’t you think,” I said. “We all lie a little. Sometimes it is a way of being polite.”
Anger flashed across her face.
“No, no, no, no, no! A lie is a lie. The grace that is the real oil that eases the frictions of life is truth spoken in love. Sometimes the truth can be a cudgel to beat up on people when it is spoken with malice. But we ought to always, always speak the truth in love. When we don’t we open the door to more dangerous lies.”
“You said that lies feed on our own corruption. What do you mean?”
“Of course. Lies feed upon our own fears. They live inside the cracks of our own integrity that happen when we lose faith in the power of the truth. Think about it. When some politician lies about jobs being shipped to China when they are not, that lie feeds on our fears of unemployment, of not being able to earn a living and take care of our families. When they tell lies about redistribution of wealth or welfare or who is taking what out of Medicare, they are feeding and exploiting our fears, and our various isms – racism, sexism, classism ageism heterosexism and so on. And like flies, the lies spread dis-ease. They make people lose their peace of mind and sense of personal security. They perpetuate the idea that someone else does not deserve the respect that we want for ourselves.
“Halloween is a time when we enjoy our fears; we make fun of the undead. Folk legends and fairy tales entertain us. Vampires suck blood. Zombies, having died, walk the earth. They are not real. But the true power of Halloween is when we see that lies are alive and they suck our love and leave us spiritually anemic. Fear takes the place of love, and soul decay sets in. We become the living dead who have not yet physically died. This is murderous. This is why Jesus calls the devil a murderer.”
“So, do you think lies will win the presidential election? Will they elect people down ballot?” I asked as I took the last sips of tea.
“I don’t know. It’s up to us, the people. I do not know if we will see the silver thread of discernment and choose to have faith in truth or in lies.” Then the lights came back on.
We both made ourselves another cup of tea, this time with the bread she had baked the day before. We filled up the basket with Halloween candy, watched General Hospital and some MSNBC. It was nearly dark when I went back up to my own apartment to write her wisdom down.
Happy Halloween.