Halloween lessons: Bravery to face your fears is a lifelong virtue

For weeks, my then 8-year-old son had been begging me to take him into one of those Halloween megastores — you know, the ones that just seem to pop up overnight in every strip mall come September.

My brother Danny has always contended that you must dress up as something scary for Halloween, or else it’s just a costume and you could wear it any day of the year. So every Halloween, Sawyer would dress up as something scary — a skeleton, a zombie, a Dementor from the “Harry Potter” books — well, except for the year he was 2½ and went as Buzz Lightyear.

A young Sawyer who even as a toddler opted for one of the more “creepy” costumes. Credit: Karina Bland/azentral.com

Loves him some creepy

Now Sawyer wanted to be a dead pirate, and he had to go to the Spirit Halloween store to get what he needed. He liked creepy things.

As a toddler, Sawyer plucked a bee off a sliding glass door and brought it to me. As a boy, he hunted for scorpions at night armed with a kitchen knife and a black light.

At the time, he played with a 3-foot-tall plastic skeleton as if it were a ventriloquist dummy. He had even asked if he could have a coffin in his bedroom. (Um, no.)

Sawyer wasn’t scared of much, not spelling tests or flu shots, not even the dark.

It’s not that he was a little psycho or anything. The same boy would walk a kindergartner by the hand from the cafeteria to the playground and get teary-eyed over the scene in “Dumbo” in which Mrs. Dumbo rocks the little elephant in her trunk from behind bars.

Superstore super scary

But nothing scary seemed to faze him. Still, I wavered about taking him to the Spirit Halloween store. Those places gave me the heebie-jeebies. Eventually, I gave in, and as we pushed through the front door of the store, Sawyer grinned up at me.

Inside, we crept past four rubber-and-resin sentries in various stages of decay, including a sinister-looking clown, holding a plastic molded weapon with painted-on blood.

We came face-to-gory face with creatures in various stages of agony — a half a man, with his mouth gagged and head painfully jerked back and rats chewing on the bloodied edges of his torso; a decapitated head with its eyes rolled back; and a zombie-like creature with his intestines spilling from his midsection.

I felt a small hand creep into mine. I looked down to see Sawyer’s pale face looking up at me.

“Are you ready to go?” I whispered. A small nod of his head. He squinted his eyes almost closed and let me lead him back out of the store.

Total time inside: three minutes.

Sawyer looked abashed.

Halloween, as practice

It’s OK, I told him. Sometimes we’re not as brave as we think we are — I was kind of scared, too — but there also would be times when he would be so much braver than he ever thought he could be:

Like when he got his tonsils out. The first time he slept over at a friend’s house. The time he broke his leg.

In the years since then, our Halloween graveyard expanded to include more headstones and scattered body parts.

Our scary movie collection has grown, too. (“Shaun of the Dead” is our favorite, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” a close second.)

We still love zombies (the slow-moving ones, not the ones that can run).

 

Sawyer, old but still into creepy. Credit: Karina Bland/azcentral.com.

And Sawyer has remained unafraid.

To audition for shows. To ask out a girl. To drive on the freeway.

Because it’s true what I told him when he was 8: Sometimes we are not as brave as we think we are, but there are times when we are braver than we ever thought we could be.

Halloween is good practice for that. We found his dead pirate costume online instead.

A version of this column originally appeared on azcentral.com in 2015.  

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