Oh, the Humanities #9

Adriene Goodwin

“One need not be a chamber to be haunted,/One need not be a house,” wrote American poet Emily Dickinson. “The brain has corridors surpassing/Material place.” Dickinson lived almost completely in isolation, and so much time alone with her own thoughts no doubt made way for ghostly whispers and whimpers clamoring through cerebral corridors.

I think October used to be my favorite month because Halloween gave me permission to be someone else, or be the best version of myself, depending on the year. It felt like the most refreshing and honest time of year for me, and the little trick-or-treater within. This October has been the most challenging of all my Octobers, dear readers, and I haven’t enough chairs to set around a table for the ghosts that follow me now.

Halloween, Samhain and Dia de Los Muertos are all holidays that occur this week, and each provides its own traditions for honoring the dead and spirits of loved ones lost. A unique custom is the Dumb Supper, or a dinner with the dead. The ancient Celtic ritual calls for including seats and plates for the deceased. The “dumb” means silent, and the whole event occurs without a word spoken. While this might seem difficult or even dull, the silence gives way for reflection and remembrance.

These supernatural holidays take place during a time of year where the veil between the living and the dead is thin. Communication is considered possible but not completely absolute. But could an annual commune with the dead truly satisfy the spirit? Does it help heal a hollow heart, or merely tear at sutures?

How can we learn to say goodbye if we hold our breath for a return? This, perhaps, is my greatest challenge this Halloween. I must learn to reconcile what has passed with what soon may come.

I never truly realized how much the Harry Potter book series quelled my depression while growing up. I’ve always known it to be an incredibly important and impactful series for my own identity, but its role as a life preserver wasn’t as clear to me then as it is now.

With grief present in my life this Hallowmas, I think of Luna Lovegood and the aftermath of events in The Order of the Phoenix: “You heard them, just behind the veil, didn’t you?” Wrote JK Rowling. “In that room with the archway. They were just lurking out of sight, that’s all. You heard them.”

Luna senses those who have passed through the ominous veil in the Department of Mysteries. She believes in what her senses relay to her, while Harry isn’t quite there yet, but he does indeed hear the voices. Luna embraces faith. Harry wrestles with it, and with the loss of a future that faith now asks him to accept.

Sometimes we feel like Harry, standing in disbelief before the void of the veil. And sometimes, like Harry, we lose ourselves in mirrors, straining to see something that isn’t really there. Sometimes, like Harry, we feel haunted by what could have been.

Sometimes, then, we have to remember what Albus Dumbledore said in The Prisoner of Azkaban: “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” As winter approaches, the world will get colder and darker, even here in San Antonio. We cannot lose ourselves in darkness or loss. We cannot waste away in front of the Mirror of Erised, for as Dumbledore said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” We each have to find our own way to not sit at a dumb supper and wait for something that might never come. We have to get up and turn on the light, even if that means going to HEB this week and purchasing Halloween candy that’s 90 percent off. Or attempting to go to the gym. Again. Or writing. Or re-reading Harry Potter and remembering that one is never alone in loss.

I am haunted by ghosts, but I hope they will not stay beyond supper.