Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Costumes of pretense

As a child, I really loved Halloween. I would look forward to it for weeks. Once I had decided on a costume, my mother began working away in her little sewing room.  She was inventive; she could refashion clothing we had outgrown, scraps of extra fabric, and previous costumes into something that satisfied my childhood imagination. As my costume took shape, my anticipation grew. When the big night finally arrived, I bubbled over with excitement. 

"Twisted Halloween Candy":
Courtesy of Stuart Miles

Trick or treating was great fun. We would we traipse around the neighborhood, often trudging through the first snowfall of the season, using pillowcases for candy sacks. For weeks afterwards, we consumed the haul of goodies that simultaneously satisfied and intensified our craving for treats.

The goodies, delicious as they were, were secondary to my love of Halloween. The thing I most enjoyed was masquerading.  When I put on that costume, I assumed a new persona: childhood angst melted away.  When I put on that costume, my dreams became reality: the sky was the limit.  It was a grand feeling!

The next morning I always felt a little sad. While I would have liked to continue to pretend, my loving but organized mother laundered, folded, and stowed my costume away at the back of a closet.  By the afternoon of November 1st, my costume was a sweet memory. It was time to “get real”.  It was time to be me.

Halloween fired my imagination
Halloween served a useful purpose in my childhood, other than the obvious benefit of free candy. It fired my imagination.  The act of pretending helped me discover my self, reshape my dreams, and accept the realities of life. Paradoxically, pretending helped me be real.

It is easy to become distracted from being real. As we outgrow the Halloween of childhood, we may develop increasingly elaborate pretenses as adults. We may succumb to cultural influences that tempt us away from self-discovery and self-acceptance.

Courting falsehoods about ourselves
Consumerism and the beauty industry are two cultural influences that entice us into participating in a masquerade, and encourage us to court falsehoods about ourselves. Consumerism convinces us that our wants are needs, and pressures us to purchase items we can ill afford. When we should be reaching out to others or facing up to our financial realities, the culture of consumerism goads us into spending on ourselves. Meanwhile, the culture of beauty sings its anti-aging siren song, deluding us into a superficial denial of our own mortality. 

"Beauty":  Courtesy of Salvatore Vuono
While there is nothing innately wrong with possessions and looking our best, focusing on these externals can make us superficial and self-centered.  Our preoccupation with ourselves begins to sap our resources and our energy. We have little left to give others because we are consumed with our cravings. The externals are like sugar laden Halloween treats: just when we think we have eaten our fill, we find ourselves craving more.

Eventually, this focus on externals makes us unhappy. Since there will always be new stuff available for purchase, and since the signs of aging are inevitable, we may feel perpetually dissatisfied. Since there will always be someone with better stuff, and someone better looking, we may feel that we do not measure up. We may feel unworthy unless we are costumed to participate in society’s elaborate masquerade.

Confusing the content of our personhood 
When this happens, we are no longer real; we are pretending. We have replaced the splendid homespun Halloween costumes of our childhood with consumer goods and a fraudulent idea of beauty.   We confuse the content of our personhood with the quality of our possessions and our physical attractiveness. We need a loving mother to make us take off our costume, and to nudge us towards confidently showing the world our resplendent selves.

We long for loving mother figures in our lives to reassure us that we are loved and loveable even without the grandiose masquerade. Love gives us the courage to strip away the externals. Love empowers us to discover the beauty within. Love gently leads us to accept our realities, and encourages us to dream in life giving ways.

We “get real” when we shed our costumes, stop masquerading, and focus on the content of our personhood. We become real when we allow others to love us despite our imperfections and inadequacies. It is truly a grand feeling!

                                                  Happy Halloween
Photo courtesy of M & J Lawson

Photo Credits: Free Digital Photos

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