Sometimes the world leaves gifts in the oddest of places. Amid all the ugliness in the news this past week, it was Halloween, of all things, that made our lives just a little bit better.

Every October many of us fall down the rabbit hole of looking through that year’s popular Halloween costumes. Mostly we just wag our fingers at the latest attempt to turn Disney characters into Las Vegas pole dancer costumes. Fortnite and Marvel characters figure to rule the day again this year, although Beetlejuice and Cobra Kai have somehow been resurrected from the ’80’s. And yes, online clothing company Yandy managed to turn the fallout from the college admissions scandal into similarly distasteful costume, complete with bare midriff and “Inmate” stamp.

However, the gift I mentioned was hidden inside a small announcement at the bottom of a browser window. Target stores recently announced a new line of “adaptive costumes” designed to fit over kids’ walkers and wheelchairs, saving their beleaguered parents countless hours of crafting workarounds. Next week, children will be styling in princess carriages, pirate ships, and specially constructed unicorn and shark outfits with additional, critical openings and access points for those kids who need them.

Let me explain why this middle-aged man was reduced to tears after reading this.

Throwing caution to the wind and risking my eternal soul (not to mention the wrath of my parents and our parish priest), I never had a problem sharing that Halloween was my favorite holiday. Sure, I got presents on Christmas and candy at Easter, but I also had to shower. Halloween allowed me to get lost. Literally.

It’s hard to explain how liberating a costume can be for those who’ve never dealt with a physical abnormality. The various costume masks I wore on Halloween allowed me to hide the double-cleft palate that felt like a lead weight throughout my childhood. I’d spend years hiding myself from world because my mouth, nose, lips and teeth were different than my peers. The ability to wear a mask rendered me, temporarily, just like everyone else.

I would have lived in my Planet of the Apes masks if my mom would have allowed it. For a few giddy hours a year, I walked around completely unnoticed amongst my community. The eyes of my fellow trick-or-treaters didn’t keep glancing down at the scars under my nose. My speech impediment was muffled and masked into an indecipherable buzz, just like everyone else’s for one magical night. I often dreamed of achieving even temporary freedom from my facial irregularities only to wake up sad and shaken when I realized it wasn’t to be.

On Halloween, though, I reveled in the wide-awake fulfillment of my deepest fantasy: I could blend in. During the rest of the year, if I could have constructed a costume of the color beige and disappeared into a wall, I would have. All Hallows’ Eve allowed me to both blend in and scratch that itch to be a Superman or Batman via a flimsy plastic mask kept on my head via an impossibly thin rubber band stapled at each end. For a few hours, it was enough. I was enough.

My heart leaps at the thought of those kids on Halloween night, experiencing that same sense of freedom and excitement. While the hope is they feel like that for the rest of the year as well, there’s something about dressing up that brings the walls down between kids. I applaud anyone who helps make that happen. Sometimes the best gifts of the night never appear in that bag of candy.

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