I’ve been haunted most of this week. Halloween was Tuesday and just driving through Newhall’s Happy Valley brought back memories. I think my daughter was in third grade. She was, and is, part artist, part girlie-girl, part tomboy and the rest, wiseacre. She’ll turn 21 in a couple months. When she was 8, we went trick-or-treating. Going back more than a century, Happy Valley is one of our oldest neighborhoods. You get an interesting mix of sugary loot, from cheap, sub-penny jawbreakers to giant-sized $2 Almond Joy bars.
My daughter and I would take breaks during our long pilgrimage of begging for processed sugar. We’d sit on a wall and examine our take. Indiana Boston had just heard of the ancient custom of trading dessert.
She is so — so — my daughter. She’d spot a full-grown Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup hiding in my bag and ask if I’d be interested in barter. She’d feign disinterest while pulling out a single, mishappen Bazooka bubble gum, partially unwrapped and covered with lint, then inquire about a swap. As a father, I confess. I’m insufferable, always looking to turn normal, mundane events into Annoying Life’s Lessons.
“Make your case,” I’d demand. “Why should I give you my 6-ounce yummy Reese’s for your pathetic and misshapen gum that’s obviously been previously chewed, put through a washing machine six times or both?”
Diplomatically, Indy would point out I was diabetic and didn’t need the coma-inducing carbs. And, as fathers went, I was old and already had walked miles. Lightening my bag demonstrably would be kind to my lower back and add years to my lifespan.
She’s her father’s daughter.
Years earlier, her mother and I took her to a party at the Historical Society. Indy was 8 months old, dressed as the cutest baby cow. Costumes for her parents were a snap. We didn’t even have to change clothes and went as farmers. I’ve had so many fun Halloweens, some fond memories, some the details of which will never see the light of autobiography or guard-down candlelight swap of nostalgia.
But, this last Halloween, I’m haunted by someone I didn’t know, someone I’ll never meet. I just saw her photo. That’s all.
Cowboys and movie stars, devils and demons, we dress in masks, scamper about in shadows from doorbell to doorbell. We giggle and scream, pretend we’re something we’re not, a fearsome entity. I’ve always felt a little wickedness — just a little — makes us interesting.
Shani Louk’s photograph has been circulating around the Internet.
She was a young German woman, kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7. I’ve been studying her face. She was beautiful. There’s a sweetness to her. It’s just the one photo. I’m sure parents and friends have other pictures. Shani is not smiling in this one. She’s a tattoo artist, a peace activist and was at the Re’im music festival in the Israeli desert when the Palestinian terrorist organization attacked, turning a happy celebration into a slaughterhouse. More than 260 defenseless music fans were murdered, in horrific fashion.
Shani was 22. She’ll never see 23. She was last seen, half-naked, seemingly lifeless, paraded in the back of a pickup truck. Men shouted “Allahu Akbar” as they spat on her bare back. A few days ago, portions of Shani’s skull were recovered. Shani had been beheaded. That may not have been the worst for her. More stories emerge in media accounts: A baby was placed in an oven and broiled to death. More infants were beheaded. Women raped. Hamas took cell phones and called relatives as they tortured their children.
Over here, in the states, Hamas supporters, cradled in our colleges, called for more Jewish deaths. Someone noted it’s safer to be a Jew in Saudi Arabia than in the United States.
The English poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, once wrote, “God is closer than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.” A great tragedy of life that so few realize? So’s the devil.
God, or, for the devout atheist, Solution, is Infinite. And so is the devil. For the correct answer to “Two Plus Two” there’s that ancient voice, barely above a whisper, calling out, “No. It’s five.” Or 11. Or 146 and on past infinity. We spend lifetimes, steeped in temptation. A friend years ago noted that “the devil doesn’t come at you with horns and a forked tail. The devil walks with you, puts a friendly hand on your back and suggests, ‘Be reasonable …’”
Some find the Bible corny, impractical, certainly not for them. You don’t have to meditate in a Buddhist temple or kneel in church. Mick Jagger, lead singer of The Rolling Stones, writhed to the roadmap lyrics of “Sympathy for the Devil.” Better? Bob Dylan correctly sang one of Life’s truisms: “You gotta serve somebody. It might be the devil, it might be the Lord, but you’ve got to serve, somebody …”
And there it is. The fact is, we all are in a constant state of prayer. And prayers get answered. Some start their days contemplating how to be a better person, grow a cleaner soul. Some fall to their knees, desiring a vulgarity not wished for by beast or monster. Disturbingly, from a teacher’s bully pulpit or government lectern, from behind a megaphone or news desk, more seem to be praying to become even more obscene.
I’m blessed with many wise friends. One aptly noted: “The devil doesn’t care what you’re upset about — just that you’re upset.”
Presently? I am upset. More than. I’m angry, enraged and saddened over a pretty young German girl, just 22, who I did not know. There will be no more concerts for Shani Louk, no more music, no parties or conversations with friends. I am angry and mourn my country and the world beyond, gone insane. Many of our leaders, our culture — our very selves — are in a wicked, surrendering, giddy freefall into oblivion. Seemingly helpless, we wallow daily in a deadly Halloween, where the devils are not in costume.
It’s not right.
John Boston is a local writer.