Every year my daughter’s elementary school is transformed into a place of mysterious mayhem and ghoulish goings on. The halls and walls are bedecked in black plastic sheeting, making everything dim and gloomy looking. One of the classrooms becomes a fortune teller’s den akin to Professor Trelawney’s room in the Harry Potter series, complete with draped scarves, beads, and the smell of incense. The auditorium stage area morphs into a wickedly delightful haunted house, complete with hands protruding from sinister white fabric screens, grotesque severed appendages, and a prominently placed guillotine. The counsellor’s office becomes a creepy graveyard, with rotting leaves covering the floors, creepy music playing, buckets filled with eyeballs (peeled grapes), intestines (spaghetti), a human heart (mango), and a preserved brain (cauliflower soaked in olive oil. The occasion for this transformation is an annual fund raising event known as the Hallowe’en Howl, that draws approximately three thousand people to the school for three completely crazy hours each year.
This event is put on by dozens of parent and student volunteers, many of who spend a great many hours in activities such as sewing costumes, cutting and decorating props, preparing food, putting up and tearing down a huge a quantity of demented decorations. This year, due to the teacher’s striking in order to help improve teaching conditions in our schools, the event was postponed from October 21st, and rescheduled at the last minute for October 28th, which meant that we didn’t have the normally allotted professional development day to set everything up. As a consequence, an incredible amount of work had to be done between the closing of school on Friday afternoon, and the opening of the event at six thirty that evening. It was an amazing and rewarding experience, especially when seeing the imaginative inspiration that it created amongst the children, the awe and joy that it inspired in them.
One of my favourite things about this event is the sense of community that it brings to the school. Everything that is done is a cooperative effort, requiring a variety of skills from the people involved, and it brings out the best in everybody. There is a real sense of connection and of belonging, at least for a short period of time, to something larger than oneself. There is laughter, brainstorming, and some bickering – everything that makes for a vital and dynamic community.
Upon leaving the school and driving home that night, my husband and I witnessed two incidents of road rage, one of which involved a man leaving his truck in the middle of an intersection, and yelling and screaming at a terrified looking group in a car. In contrast to this “village” of like-minded souls that we just been a part of, the “outside world” seemed a strange and isolating place.
Would people treat each other this way if they were face to face, solving problems together? Not likely. Everyday I see people holding doors open for each other, smiling in acknowledgement of each other. And yet when they get behind the disconnecting anonymity of their driver’s wheels and their computer screens, they give each other the finger, or engage in acts of near-sociopathic rudeness.
What this leads me to believe is that each of us must look for ways to break down the barriers that keep us divided one from another. We must find ways and opportunities to work together as often as possible, to step out from behind our closed doors and immerse ourselves in the world. And this something that applies on a global, as well as individual level.