Last week we celebrated Halloween, a day on which little people seeking goodies dress up and pretend to be things they really aren’t, like superheroes and villains.
In the adult world, we call that Election Day.
As you might have noticed from that remark, it’s easy — too easy — to get cynical after these endless months of politicking and campaigning. Even worse, there’s reason to fear that in an election as close as this one, the wrangling may continue or even intensify after final votes are cast today, with judges, lawyers and courtrooms trying to resolve what voters and ballots could not.
So in this moment of relative sanity and calm, in these few hours in the eye of storm in which all we can do is wait, let’s talk about better, more important things. Because as I was reminded again last week, there is no better antidote to cynicism than a gap-toothed little five-year-old standing on your doorstep, bag held open and a hopeful look upon her face.
Delightful in its own right, it brings back a flood of recollection for all or most of us. I still have dimming memories of being a young boy in costume, the paper bag clutched in my fists growing ever heavier from doorstep to doorstep. It seemed miraculous that we lived in a world in which people I did not even know kept giving me candy for no apparent reason. And though I don’t recall it directly, I know that somewhere back in the autumn shadows, my mother and father were hovering, keeping a warm, parental eye on us as we made the rounds.
In more recent Halloween memories, I have become that young father hovering in the background, watching as my own children toddle up the walkway in costume to knock on the door. And one part I remember vividly about those years were the older couples who would come to the door and coo and chuckle, charmed by the few minutes they got to share with children.
This year, with our children up and grown, we have in turn become that older couple, happy to see wide-eyed little ones on our doorstep. I can look at the child and see myself there, and look at the smiling parent and see myself there as well. Every Halloween we play out the same scene, with the same stock characters. But unlike the Bill Murray character in “Groundhog Day,” who is doomed to play the same role day after day, the passage of time gives us the chance to play every role in that tableau, to experience the tradition from every perspective.
Professional actors and actresses lucky enough to have long careers know that phenomenon well. They often find themselves playing different roles in the same classic plays, from the ingenue to the young mother to the matron to the grandmother. But it’s true in real life as well. As Shakespeare reminded us:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.”
Time allows you to experience life in the round, to see it and know it from every perspective. If time does bring wisdom, that is its source.
In the rest of that famous speech quoted above, Shakespeare writes of the seven ages of man, beginning with childhood and concluding in oldest age, when we turn again to childishness. It is a cycle, like so many other cycles, like the cycle of the seasons from late summer to fall to winter, and yes, even presidential election cycles. The end of one is the beginning of another.
And if that doesn’t frighten you, nothing will.