“Why is it called Halloween, Mom?”
We're driving to preschool. This is the time of day when August asks all the good questions.
“Ummmm…” I say. I say that a lot. See the thing is he wants a real answer. He wants the history and the reasoning. If he knew the word ‘etymology,’ he’d want that too.
I stop at the light. “So, Halloween is a holiday that comes from ‘All Hallows Eve.’”
“Just like Christmas Eve!”
“Yeah, like Christmas Eve is the night before Christmas. All Hallows Eve is the night before the Hallows.” I’m making this up as I go. “That’s because the Church Calendar says the next day is All Saints Day. That means it’s a day for celebrating ‘saints,’ people who loved Jesus and have already gone to heaven. It’s a way for us to remember them.”
* * *
Last week I had a conversation with a friend whose 8-year-old son wanted to decorate her front yard with homemade R.I.P. signs. At first she said no way. But then she started thinking and praying about that answer.
“What really concerns me about having signs about dead people?” she said to me later, while I stood in her kitchen and she flipped pancakes at the griddle. “I realized that maybe it’s healthy for my kids to think about death, not in some monster sort of way, but in a way that remembers people, that celebrates their lives.”
She told her son he could make the R.I.P. signs if he made them for people he admired who had already died, like: “R.I.P. Martin Luther King Jr.” or “R.I.P. Mickey Mantle.”
I’ve been thinking about that. There’s so much wisdom there. How do we talk about death with our kids and remember the lives of those we loved?
* * *
We’re still sitting at the light, Masonic and Haight. I say, “Maybe we should do something the day after Halloween to remember people we love who have gone to heaven.”
He’s thinking. “But we don’t know any one, Mommy.”
“Of course we do!” I say. “Who do we know who went to heaven this past summer?”
“Oh! Pawpaw!” he practically shouts. “Oh, Mommy, I forgot! I forgot that Pawpaw gets to see Jesus in real life all the time! We don’t see Jesus in real life. But someday, we’ll go to heaven and we’ll see Jesus in real life, too.”
I can’t believe these words. The moment they’re out of his mouth, the image is stronger in my mind than it’s been since I lost my grandfather this past July. In Real Life, this phrase I use all the time for people I once knew only online but now know in person. Someone I’ve seen face to face. Someone I’ve laughed with.
And there in my mind is a picture of my grandfather with his Savior, knowing Jesus in Real Life. And I believe it. There in the car heading uphill toward Fulton, with my sons in the backseat, I believe it.
“Mama, are you crying?” he says with a little grin on his face.
“Yeah, baby. I’m crying. You know why?”
“Because I was just thinking about how happy I am that Pawpaw gets to see Jesus in real life.”
“Remember how you had to say bye to Pawpaw because he was gonna die and you cried with Memaw?”
“Yeah, August, I remember.”
And I turn west on Fulton and drive. If I keep going, if I don’t stop at school, this road will take me straight to the ocean. And I see it ahead. The Pacific Ocean, this unknown world of water where I can never live. I can learn about it and fish in it. I can ride boats over it, but never fully understand it. Sometimes, I can see creatures if peer down into it. Sometimes, if I swim into the shallows, the fish will swish by my legs. And some of us can dive deep in, but only for a short time. We only have so much oxygen. Our bodies are weak for that world.
Real Life, I think as we move in this car toward an unknown sea. We are always moving toward it. And what if it is the real life? This world, only virtual, only words on a screen. But in that one, we will finally know. We will finally be known.