I have to talk to students about fire and tornado and lockdown procedures in the library. One time, a perceptive sixth grader looked at me and said, “If someone came here with a weapon, they’d come to the library first. It’s right here at the front.” This is, in fact, what the school resource officer told me, but I downplayed it and told the student that it was my job to worry about that. “But what would we do?” he persisted. I told him that I would do my best to get him to a safe place and protect him. He looked at all five feet two inches of me and said, “I don’t think you could protect me.”
And he’s right. I probably couldn’t. I can’t protect myself from misunderstandings and miscommunications. I can’t protect Atticus from bad dreams and loud noises. I can’t protect students from hunger. I can’t stop a hurricane.
I got unexpectedly emotional when I saw that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had tweeted that kids shouldn’t be scared about the hurricane, that adults were taking care of business. He seems so gruff that it was sweet and unexpected. Maybe it touched me because it’s not true, as much as we all want it to be. We adults do try to take care of business and keep kids from being scared, but it’s not that simple.
This is why I like Halloween, the idea that we can dress as things that make us afraid, can own them for ourselves. We can put on silly costumes and laugh with our neighbors. We can do the hard and holy work of letting this be a thin place: remembering the people who have passed on, knowing that this last great enemy has been defeated and that we have nothing to fear. Atticus is mocking sin and death this year by dressing as a wild and wonderful six-year-old boy whose best friend helps him face everything this world has to offer.
Tonight we will walk the streets with ninjas and ghosts and fairies. The hems of costumes will trail behind them as they run, high on sugar and excitement, down the sidewalks. Little ones will hold parents’ hands as they step from the safety of a street light into the darkness.
I will tell Atticus one thing I know for sure: It’s a magical world. This, too, is holy work: the business of childhood, the business of imagination, the business of naming the things that we most fear. I will send us out with this benediction as we carry that magic with us and as we seek to find it.