Life goes in spirals, a spiritual friend told me long ago. You go around and around, and cover the same ground, over and over again. But if you are going in the right direction, growing in the right direction, you never come upon the same spot in the spiral at the same elevation. At each point, you hope, you are higher on the spiral. You have more perspective, more wisdom, more strength.
This year was the first my son did not go trick-or-treating, citing lack of costume but more aware, I suspect, of his status as teenage hero-- outstanding, betwixt and between, not old enough to party with adults, no longer young enough to be comfortable among the crowds of toddler princesses.
My daughter sauntered out in a cowgirl outfit, declining to be photographed ("She doesn't like paparazzi," a babysitter once quipped), old enough to walk un-shepherded with a set of friends just as confidently dressed and sure of their place in the world.
A phone message left by an old friend whose kids have shared Halloween with ours for a very long time, but not this year, and perhaps never again: "It was a good run while it lasted." Then the inevitable sigh.
My own place has now receded to homeowner sitting by the door with a package of Hershey's Caramel Kisses. For so long (it seemed), I walked with my children to keep them safe as they knocked and piped the ritual call. That has now gone forever.
Halloween always smells the same, somehow. Smell is my worst sense, but the air always smells the same at Halloween: a lingering, stale sweetness, of warm, damp leaf mulch, a compost of nostalgia and lost opportunity.
Or perhaps the smell is as if a thousand children opened a thousand Milky Way minis at the exact same time, letting free the corn syrup-heavy factory air that went into the package warm on an August afternoon and then cooled in storage, permanently changing the nature of its molecules so that it became what we would perceive as fall-like.
Everything is new, and everything comes back again.
I suspect this feeling of spiral has something to do with the cyclical nature of traditional religion. Of course, there are natural cycles. Halloween began as Irish New Year, Samhain, and whenever another cycle has finished and a new one begins, we take stock. We jump across the gap between years, and cross our fingers that we won't fall in.
But no cycle is the same. Every time we come around, something has changed. At the least, we have grown a year older, and a year closer to death. For sure, some of our loved ones have met their end, or the loved ones of neighbors. This change is troubling, and out of our control. So that it is not just the fact of the cycle that makes us uneasy, but also that no cycle is lived in exactly the same way.
Last year, it seemed, I had just begun to make peace with the old Halloween. Before, I resented having to go through this forced observation of a cycle. For one year, I enjoyed it. Now I must adjust to something new: the forced retirement from the cycle.
But tomorrow, All Saints' Day, I will remind myself as I pass by my icon of St. John Chrysostom, patron of teachers and preachers, that there will be a day, one day, to complete all incompletions, to fulfill all cycles and all spirals, and to transform all doubt into joy.