There’s Something Special About October
I love October in West Virginia; I always have. The crispness of chilly morning air, the smell and sound of leaves falling after their far-too-short burst of autumnal color, the general stillness outdoors as people begin to spend more time inside, and, of course, Halloween—the “spooky season.”
October is also a month unto itself with few similarities to other months. As Ray Bradbury said in Something Wicked This Way Comes, (one of my favorite Halloween reads), “First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren’t rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say.” April and May? Kissing cousins. December, January, and February? Essentially, the same months bookended by red and pink holidays. May and June are like brothers on the calendar.
And yet, there is something eerie about October, isn’t there? As Bradbury said, “there be bad and good.”
It is a quiet month. Darkness begins to win its eternal struggle against the light as the days grow shorter. If you’re above a certain latitude in the Northern Hemisphere, it is also a foreboding month. One knows that bone-chilling, cold, biting wind; slick ice; heavy snow; thick clouds; and a seemingly eternal winter await in a few short weeks. Though one never quite knows when the Old Man will arrive. October is like spending time with an aging grandparent. You cherish it while you can because you know what is just around the corner.
October Celebrates Fear
At its core, October is a month for celebrating fear—fear of the unknown, fear of the impending cold, and fear of the grotesque. Every year, millions of people don terrifying costumes, watch spine-tingling movies, and venture on strangers’ property – property replete with ghouls and goblins – demanding sugary sacrifice, lest one be “tricked.” For 31 days, fear is embraced not avoided.
West Virginia and Fear of the Unknown
I believe that West Virginia is in something of its own “October” right now, though not just on the calendar. In under a decade, West Virginia has transformed its political and policy landscape in an unprecedented way. It boggles this West Virginian’s mind when one considers the changes the state has undergone in the las eight or nine years: right-to-work, legal reform, healthcare reform, education reform, and tax reform. Taken alone, any one of these policy reforms would be cause for a great celebration in each decade, yet the state has not only enacted something in each area, but, often, such as in the case of the Hope Scholarship education program, in a truly groundbreaking way.
How will these policy changes manifest in the daily lives of individual West Virginians? What about West Virginia’s economy, as a whole? No one truly knows. Now, we have a good idea, as the record of history is quite clear that these changes will be good for individual West Virginians and West Virginia at large, but, again, no one can say for certain.
West Virginia Should Fear the Known More than the Unknown
But, just as our costumed neighbors and horror movie-watching friends will do this month, West Virginia must embrace the fear of the unknown, for what’s truly scary, is what is already known: West Virginia’s history. For once, the fear of the known should be greater than the fear of the unknown.
West Virginia’s past is one of poverty, population loss, lack of opportunity, low birth rates, high rates of drug overdose, high death rates, and a fatalism in which “yesterday was bad, today is bad, tomorrow will be bad, and there is nothing to be done about it.”
All this terrifying reality emerged from under a tried-and-true philosophical and political regime of bureaucracy, paternalism, handouts, dependence, and a rigid, sclerotic education system. That is West Virginia’s well-known past, and so we must venture out in search of something else, something different, something possibly “scary,” and that’s exactly what the state has done over the last several years.
So, my friends, let’s learn something from the beautiful month that is October for ‘tis the season to embrace the fear, embrace the unknown … the future brings better days ahead.
“People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy, anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better.” – Ray Bradbury
We are building better.
Garrett Ballengee is the President & CEO of the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy.