In the still of the night, the most terrifying tale of the year waited to be born. Not “It.” Not “Stranger Things.” Not even the Denver Broncos’ quarterback situation.
Not compared to the prospect of myself with a hobby knife in one hand, preparing to perform surgery on a ping-pong ball.
Yes, Halloween approaches. And this year, a non-profit group I belong to was putting on a Harry Potter night in advance of the holiday, so a little wizardly transformation was in order. With the aid of some building, borrowing, and scrounging, I would Transfigure my humble frame into the visage of Mad-Eye Moody, hard-bitten survivor of the wars against the darkness.
It sounded cool. Even a bit nostalgic. After all, my Mom used to make most of our Halloween costumes, sending me into the world as Robin Hood, or a scarecrow, or Hercules, or a ghost, all covered over with the heavy coat that even heroes of legend require in a Colorado October.
But completing this transformation would require sharp objects. And hot glue. And abundant snickers from the unseen peanut gallery.
You see, I’m not my Mom. (News flash!) My skills aren’t fated to be the centerpiece of “Craft Wars” or “The Handmade Project” or a PBS special on domestic skill. A Comedy Central special on unintended slapstick, on the other hand, would be right up my alley.
I’m the guy who, every Christmas, loses a wrestling match to wrapping paper.
Who once turned cleaning up dog vomit into a Chevy Chase routine, including two collisions with a bathroom door.
Who famously walked offstage in the middle of a solo, in order to make an unscheduled visit to the orchestra pit by the most direct route.
As a result, my Halloween costumes as an adult had been somewhat … well, safe. An IRS agent, with a briefcase saying “I’m not Death, I’m the other one.” A Man in Black. A reporter in a borrowed trench coat.
But no one stays safe in Hogwarts. And so, the Night of the Ping-Pong Ball Sacrifice awaited. After all, Mad-Eye Moody has to have that oversized eye. A full complement of fingers, on the other hand, was clearly optional.
In a situation like this, Harry would have relied on the wisdom of Dumbledore, or the learning of Hermione, or even the gentle strength of Hagrid. Thankfully, I had something better – a lesson in the sheer practicality of my brother-in-law.
Heather’s brother Brad has helped us with more than a few home improvement projects over the years, from repairing ceilings to replacing doors. But his best advice was also his simplest, given when a little bit of force had just solved the problem of the day.
“You can’t fix something,” he said, “if you’re afraid of breaking it.”
The more I think about that, the truer it gets. And it fits a lot more than just basic repair.
Everything worth doing carries risks. And it’s easy to get intimidated by them, especially if the task is difficult or unfamiliar. The costs loom large, the worst-case scenario all too palpable, summoned to life by the words “What if …?”
But while you never take stupid risks, taking none at all is the quickest route to failure. Not every attempt will succeed. But making the attempt gives it a chance. And when the extra push clicks something into place instead of snapping it in two, you gain something worth having – a cool costume, a repaired home, a neat idea that helps a community or a nation – plus a little more confidence for the next time.
Confidence and effort won’t solve everything. But it’s where a solution can start. It’s almost magical that way.
It certainly snapped me out of my Moody blues.