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October 9, 1999 Article - Inspiration, Expiration

"But you know, the darkest hour
is always just before the dawn."

-- David Crosby, Stephen
Stills and Graham Nash

"Weeping may endure for a night,
but joy cometh in the morning."

-- Psalms 30;5

"We are stardust
We are golden..."

-- Joni Mitchell

Inspiration, Expiration...

The Challenge of Living From Ecstasy
in a World Filled with Fear

When I lived way down south in New Orleans and then far up north in British Columbia, I had the opportunity to realize that this time of year has the same essential meaning for all of the people who live in our hemisphere, regardless of climatic conditions. Variations on the themes of Autumn were played out and ritually observed despite the fact that this season, as we know it in more temperate climes, does not exist in either of these places. During the course of my travels to the east and west coasts I also discovered the diverse ways that different groups of people regard and consequently celebrate or even ignore this particular yearly cycle. Naturally, I was fascinated and reviewed my own experiences in the light of these varying perspectives.

The glorious spectacle of leaves changing from green to shades of citrine, vermilion and chocolate has resonated to me from the time I was very young. Pumpkins and squash ripening in the garden and apples hanging ripe from the branches of a tree in the backyard made my mouth water with anticipation of gustatory delight. Raking leaves and harvesting the bounty of fall was exhilarating, yet always tempered by a certain sadness that took me a long time to define. When I was growing up, the first hard frost generally occurred around Halloween. Though like most children I was excited about "going out trick or treating" and spent much time deliberating "what I was going to be", seeing the black foliage on the flowers filled me with a sense of foreboding, as did the chill in the air and the shortening days. Still, I ran through the neighborhood from house to house with my friends. When I said I felt scared, they would tell me not to be silly so I adopted a brave front and carried on even though I wanted to go home.

Years later, when I was a senior in high school and helping my parents hand out candy to the little ghosts, ghouls and goblins who came to the door, the unspeakable happened. A friend of mine and a couple of his buddies decided to "hang out and spook the little kids, just for fun". For affect, he strapped a sharp bowie knife to his belt which he withdrew and waved at the little kids who passed him in the moonlit night. The children shrieked and howled and ran away as fast as they could, except for one boy who tripped and fell onto the shiny blade which fatally pierced him in the heart.

Tragic events of this nature, in addition to perennial rumors of poisoned cookies and razor blades buried in candy, provoke an understandable response in our hearts and minds as we adults and parents strive to protect our children. While setting guidelines for Halloween activities is sensible, other actions are often ineffectual because they do not address the underlying issue. The recent pressure to ban R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" series and similar horror stories written for children from the bookstores and library shelves is an excellent example. External measures such as this serve only to repress the innate need children of all ages have to explore, in a safe environment, the inevitable terror that merely being alive involves. Try as we might, no method can shield us or our loved ones from the fact that death is a part of life. Our society's garish commercialization and mockery of this sacred time of year has obviously not soothed our souls, but instead has suppressed our very real and valid fears, thus perpetuating the power of that which we so wish to avoid: the dark side of the collective consciousness.

Historically, people throughout the world have realized that the celestial energies at this time are delicate. The boundaries between kindness and cruelty, pain and joy, and life and death are quite fragile and must be handled gently. We are encouraged to connect with one another in a deep and purposeful way, and become aware that even as we breathe we are replicating the wonder of life's totality. With each inhalation we re-birth ourselves. When we exhale, a part of us expires, only to be refilled with the ecstasy of inspiration in our next breath.

© Kristina Strom

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