In my day, beyond the timeless ghouls and goblins, the go-to costumes for Halloween included Elvis Presley. And the Elvis Presley in question would have worn the white suit or jacket. Now, it could have been the solid white suit or it could have been the bedazzled white suit, and for those with a discerning eye, the costume would have been complimented by a black scarf.
So, perhaps you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that in my day, beyond the predictable creatures that eat flesh and the creatures that suck blood, the costumes included yet another white suit – that sported by John Travolta in the cinematic sensation entitled Saturday Night Fever.
Now, in Saturday Night Fever, the story was told of 19-year-old Brooklyn-born Tony, the under-celebrated brother of a priest until such time as young Tony began training for a dance competition at the local disco with Stephanie. And from that collaboration arose those iconic dance moves that would inspire countless boys to wander that expanse that is Osawatomie, Kansas – clad in white polyester – ringing doorbells and saying, “Trick or treat.”
Maybe even more common were the countless lads sporting hair teased to whatever heights their genetics would allow to emulate the enigmatic Mr. Roarke whose luxurious Fantasy Island worked its magic week after week after week in the lives of its many guests, portrayed by an endless palette of thespian virtuosity ranging from Lola Falana to Lorenzo Lamas to Joe Namath to Charo.
And now that I’m presenting this autobiographical insight for the first time, it suddenly comes clear that this is really something of a tribute to all grandmothers raising boys on fixed incomes; for this is really something of a tribute to an ingenuity capable of dressing a grandson as Elvis in the 3rd grade, Tony in the 4th grade and Mr. Roarke in the 5th grade with no investment beyond trading a black scarf for a black shirt for a black tie.
Now, that’s not to say that in my day there weren’t female characters. It’s just to say that it was those a few years older than I who were just beginning to approach that threshold for the first time of what it might mean for a boy to descend the stairs and introduce himself to Grandma as the bionic woman, or cruise director Julie, or any one of Charlie’s Angels whose responsibilities mysteriously required them to cast off their daily clothes for bikinis at some point in every episode.
I’m certainly glad my responsibilities don’t require me to cast off my daily clothes for trunks at some point in every service.
Now, this is clever and this is cute, and deep down you know that there’s something of a truth lurking behind the cuteness, something of a truth lurking within the cleverness. For deep down, you know that we’re still uniform-ing ourselves in the black scarfs, black shirts and black ties handed to us by the machinations of society that we might line up behind countless others donned in black scarfs, black shirts and black ties and roam from door to door hoping the world will do some tricks, begging the world to give some treats.
But the games of children do not translate into the purposes of soul.
It’s the words of the great transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, which would encourage each of us, even today, to awaken from the uninspired mundanity of mimicry and I quote, “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood [the womanhood] of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the securing of bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. [And] self-reliance is its aversion.” Or as he said in another way, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
He goes on to encourage us again and again (and forgive the gendered language of his time – it certainly didn’t reflect any diminishment of women at work within Emerson, I can assure you) he goes on to encourage us again and again to stand up for the wisdom which would be demonstrated through us, and I quote, “There’s a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion. Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession.
“You shall be sure to be misunderstood. Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.”
You see, the promise of this lesson isn’t a life that’s easy.
The promise of this lesson is a life that’s worth it.
What Unity would have you know is that you are an individualized expression of a limitless creative impetus by whatever name we choose to call it; that you are a unique emanation of an eternal unfolding is-ness by whatever name we choose to call it; that you are an inimitable articulation of an infinite exploring intelligence, by whatever name we choose to call it.
Ah, the rich paradox of our multiplicity continued within our unity!
In other words, what Unity would have you know is that deep down, you really are different. Deep down, you really are quirky. Deep down, you really are odd. You are different and quirky and odd and all the other things that you’ve feared for so long because it’s in your spiritual makeup. Essentially, you are different and quirky and odd because you’re supposed to be.
Your poem is supposed to be unique.
Your song is supposed to be unique.
Your thoughts are supposed to be unique.
Your perspectives are supposed to be unique.
Your gifts are supposed to be unique.
You see, that’s why God made one Presley, one Travolta, one Mantalban.
You are different and quirky and odd because you’re supposed to be.
And it’s good.
And it’s good because this fullness of who you are serves a purpose in this world.
Now, the lure to black scarfs, shirts and ties is strong. And the rewards of mindless obedience are plentiful. But the degree to which we choose these well-traveled roads of conformity and mindless obedience is the degree to which we deny our inherent purpose in this world. You are designed to be yourself. You are designed to be your full self. And in the end, it’s the only thing you’ll ever really be good at. And in the end, as the great poet so aptly implies, you’ll find this less-traveled road to be well worth the trouble.
And so it is that on this Halloween Sunday, I would have each of us toss aside the black scarfs, black shirts and black ties which we’ve been handed by a stale history and to give welcome to the colorful tapestry which we’ve been promised by an infinite tomorrow.
Or to return to the words of Emerson, “I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I must be myself. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly [IN-lie] rejoices me and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. And if we follow the truth it will bring us out safe at last.”