Halloween reflections: My greatest honor bestowed
Another Halloween has come and gone, and with it, an unexpected honor bestowed upon me.
I turned 60 this year, and while I vow not to burden you with too many ‘I’m growing older’ reflections, please allow me this one. After all, I lost my mom this year, my own personal Mother Earth, and now both my parents are gone.
Halloween, for decades now, has been my favorite holiday. More so than any other holiday, Halloween features what is best about our culture — putting aside the individually-wrapped services of sugar, of course! But really, the basic, egalitarian idea of door-to-door openness, of playfulness, of dancing with the dark side … Halloween is a celebration of what’s possible.
I used to put so much effort into my costumes. At one point I realized that my elaborate costumes usually involved covering up my head in some way — one year it was a birdcage — rendering me uncommunicative. I began to see that was the point perhaps, that for one day of the year I was supposed to shut the hell up.
But another motif emerges. Recently a friend sent me a photo from 1988. That’s me in the foreground; yes I am the earth!
This photo reminded me of another costume, early that decade, where I dressed up as I dressed up as the potential for nuclear war, with a globe for a head and an elaborate red button on my chest as a trigger for nuclear war.
Sometimes I think I have been worried about planetary issues like climate change for only about a dozen years, but a litany of my Halloween costumes tells me otherwise.
In the 90s, my sons were born, and so Halloween became mostly about them, on into the 2000s. Over those years, I stopped putting my own costumes together. Perhaps I’ve played out the possibilities for me; perhaps I’m just waiting for new inspiration.
Into this breach flowed an unexpected delight this year.
Bloomington South High School students dressed up as various eco-related characters this year. Their AP environmental science teacher, Amanda Figolah, sent my photos and an excited stream of texts today, listing the costumes: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Recyclops — along with students representing broad concepts like aquatic ecosystem and ecological disruption.
For me personally, though, my favorite costume idea she sent … was me.
That’s right, one student, dressed up as me.
That’s him — or me, rather — on the left.
I had visited Bloomington South High School the week before to attend a symposium on cafeteria waste and food composting, as well as keynote at the inaugural Youth Environmental Leadership Summit thanks to IU’s Integrated Program in the Environment. I don't remember this student in particular, but I must have made an impression.
This is pretty flattering and might in fact be the most gratifying honor of my life.
Figolah said he was in character throughout the day; he told everyone he’d pretty much given up on adults regarding climate action and was focused on youth (yes, I say that), and I was portrayed as passionate and enthusiastic (I hope that’s the case).
Nothing is scarier than climate change; I live in a perpetual state of anxiety. To be perceived as passionate and enthusiastic — and have that reflected back to me in some kid’s costume idea — is a goal anyone would be glad to accomplish.
Something else happened this year, my 60th, the beginning of my parentless life; I celebrated my fifth anniversary running Earth Charter Indiana. Five years of total focus on our climate crisis, a period of freedom to engage in the thing that I care most about: giving back to this beautiful earth and all it’s given me.
This costume-as-me is an unexpected gift; may I live up to this honor.