Conseille me, Kynde [Nature]," quod I, "what craft be best to learn?"
"Lerne to love," quod Kynde, "and leef alle othere."
- William Langland, Piers Plowman
There is a kind of endearing tradition that goes on here in Charlotte every year as we approach Halloween. It's called "Ghosting," and what happens is that someone with a mischievous spirit leaves a bag of candy on your doorstep, knocks on the door and then runs away before you have the chance to know who has left the sweet gift. In turn, you are then expected to "Ghost" three other homes. It's really fun and, as far as I can tell, no other towns nearby do this. It's uniquely Charlotte.
A few days ago someone in town posted a really grumpy piece about Ghosting practices on the Front Porch Forum. The Forum is an online gathering space (emailed daily to members) that allows neighbors to communicate with one another, usually regarding goods for sale, services one is seeking, free items and local events. Every once in a while someone uses the Forum to gripe about something, but that's not what the Forum is for, technically. The piece the Ghosting-hater wrote was so cantankerous in nature that it actually became humorous. In it, the person complained that a bag of candy had landed in their gutter, causing a flood in their home. "I would never feed candy to my children that was thrown at my house," wrote the writer, who then went on to list the other things that had been thrown (loaded lighters, paintballs, glass bottles) over the years. Apparently, too, unwanted pets, including rodents and snakes, have been left near their home.
I've lived in Charlotte for about 14 years now, and no one has ever thrown anything at either of the two houses I've lived in, including candy during the Ghosting season. The whole thing made me screw my face up in disbelief, perplexed as to why this house, in particular, has apparently been on the receiving end of so much...throwing.
Just a few days before this posting appeared on the Forum I sat with a woman in the hospital who complained bitterly about everything: the staff, the food, the fact that no one would provide her with postal supplies. I sat and listened to her, looking out her windows, across the rooftops to the mountains in the distance, and all I could think was, "Do you have any idea how spectacular this view is?"
Why is it, I wonder, that we fixate on small things in a life filled to the brim with beauty? Why is it the habit of humans to focus their attention on all that is wrong rather than all that is right?
Because, you know, it actually is a choice.
Obviously we all have our dark hours, our dark days, our dark periods. We have to; there's no way we would be able to recognize the light without them. But to dwell in grumpiness and to spread grumpiness to a larger audience are choices, and not really all that life-affirming. And what are we here for if not to affirm, for ourselves and everyone around us, that being alive is pretty great. That there are a lot of reasons to be kind of psyched that we're alive today and not dead. Not yet, anyway.
One of them, actually, is Ghosting. Because Ghosting is really cool. It's a community-wide game. People leave candy at your door. Free candy -- before Halloween! It puts one in the spirit of the season at a time when darkness and cold are closing in. It's fun to go out on a Ghosting mission in the dark, to knock on a door and run. And then to spy on the Ghosted and to see their smile when they realize what's happened.
Here's my advice to the unhappy writer of the Forum rant: clean your gutters annually. Take your kids out and Ghost some neighbors -- show them how it's done, peacefully and in the spirit of fun. And if people are still throwing things at your house, it might be time to do a little less complaining and a little more soul-searching. Take a look around you; you live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, surrounded by some of the finest people you will ever meet. Enter into it and find what you need to make peace there, with yourself and with your Ghosters.