I enjoyed Halloween this year. I started the evening with a large supply of candy, and ended it with an empty bowl. I ran out of candy just before the trick-or-treaters stopped coming, and had to pass out small bags of chips to the last few children. It was actually exciting to run out of candy. That hasn’t happened to me in years.
The kids and their parents showed a lot of creativity in creating costumes and I complimented a number of the older kids on their efforts. One polite girl admired my Halloween sweatshirt that sports a teddy bear wearing a witch’s hat and holding a broom. It was nice to pass out the fun size candy bars and make mini social connections.
I looked forward to trick-or-treating with my kids when they were little. It gave me a reason to visit casually with my neighbors. After the disruption of Covid, it was wonderful to have this friendly event back.
One thing Covid taught me is that we need to talk to strangers. Lots of jokes have been made about depending on the kindness of strangers, but it’s truer than we realize. We all depend on the kindness of strangers.
I don’t mean only the workers in the background of our lives who drive our groceries to the loading dock at the supermarket, or who maintain our roads, or who manufacture our allergy medicines. I mean the strangers we meet in our daily lives. These are the people we talk to briefly, with no expectation of forming a lasting connection: people at the post office, or inside a fast food restaurant when we’ve exited our cars and walked inside to order. These are any strangers we have a brief chat with in a public place.
During Covid, I missed my usual activities with friends and family. I expected this. Of course I would want to be with them. Once I got vaccinated and started spending more time outside my home I was surprised at how much I enjoyed seeing and talking with people I didn’t know.
I can’t say I understand this, but I suppose we humans love to find a reason to connect with each other. We need to spend time together with our own kind, even when we crowd together. Sports events, concerts, parades, and commencement ceremonies make us feel good. Deep spiritual fulfillment may develop during group pilgrimages to holy places.
Dangerous groups can attract us. We may find our identity when we participate in protests, even violent ones. Some people want to be pushed and bumped into a delirious crowd at a concert.
Intense togetherness turned tragic this year at the Halloween festivities in Seoul when over 150 people died in a crowd that was simply pressed too tightly together.
So many people wanted to be in a group celebration, after years of the limitations imposed by Covid. The authorities were unprepared to manage the crowd, and horror ensued.
Crowds followed Jesus. There are multiple stories in the gospels of large crowds. Thousands were fed in the story of the loaves and the fishes. On another occasion, when Jesus was touched by the woman who needed healing, the people around Jesus were surprised that he asked who had touched him, because the crowd around him was so dense. How could he tell that anyone in particular had touched him?
Despite the dangers of crowds, there is something in them that makes us feel part of a greater reality. Remember Pentecost was a public event. The Holy Spirit came down to the disciples when they were together with each other and a diverse crowd of strangers.
Jesus told us that wherever two or three are gathered together in his name, he would be present. When we take communion, we experience the presence of Jesus together. Peeling the plastic off our funny little communion kits isn’t exactly a mystical experience, but our inner selves still respond. As we move towards Thanksgiving, the next fall holiday, let’s give thanks for the gift of worshiping and communing in person again.