Two shapely young women, dressed in Catholic school girl uniforms with a skirt length no nun would ever tolerate, wobble towards the Bistro teetering on top of their patent leather stiletto pumps.
“Damn,” I say looking through the front window, “Where were these girls when I was a kid at St. Agnes?”
“Probably not even born,” Beth quips.
“You’re funny,” I snort.
“Besides those girls are a little old to be in grammar school,” she says. “They’re like twenty-three.”
I grab some of the treats we’ve been handing out to the neighborhood kids. Opening the door I call out, “Hey girls, want some candy?”
The girls laugh.
“Hey, Snickers!” one exclaims.
“Don’t be late for school children or you’re gonna get a spanking,” I say.
“And you’re gonna punish us?” the other girl says, provocatively wiggling her hips.
“Naughty naughty,” I say, wagging a finger.
“Thanks for the candy mister,” the girl says Lolitishly.
“Have a Happy Halloween,” I say. I go back inside.
“You enjoyed that didn’t you?” Beth says.
“Oh yessss,” I exhale.
“Why didn’t you dress up for Halloween?”
“Well, I thought of coming in as The Rude Waiter.”
“Not much of a stretch.”
“Yeah, I thought of painting on a thin mustache and wearing a monocle.”
“That would have been funny.”
“And you know what?” I say.
“Some customers wouldn’t get the joke.”
“No, they wouldn’t,” Beth says.
“Some people are killjoys, even on Halloween.”
“Pumpkin Patch Scrooges,” Beth mutters.
“Are you doing anything for Halloween?” I ask.
“Yeah, me and my girlfriends are going to this haunted farm thing out in Jersey.”
“That’ll be fun.”
“I love that stuff,” Beth says.
“Did you hear about that haunted house some church is sponsoring?” I ask.
“Check this out. Instead of normal scary stuff, you know, ghosts and Frankenstein, they’re exhibiting terrifying punishments for sin.”
“I saw it on TV,” I say, “They had people frying in electric chairs, gays dying of AIDS…..”
“I don’t think I’d like that haunted house,” Beth says.
“One exhibit showed a woman being dragged into hell because she had an abortion.”
Beth looks at me in shock. “Can you imagine some poor woman who had an abortion seeing that?”
“Especially if she thought it was a ‘regular’ haunted house.”
“Man, I mean, it’s a kid’s holiday,” Beth says, shaking her head.
I suddenly remember something from long ago.
“Did I ever tell you about the time my godfather spoke at an anti abortion rally?” I ask.
“He was a priest wasn’t he?”
“What did he say?” Beth asks.
“Well, it was an ecumenical rally and people were really whipped into a fire and brimstone frenzy,” I say, remembering. “You know, these loose women are sinners, they’re going to hell, etcetera.”
“Man,” Beth breathes.
“So it’s my godfather’s turn to speak…………..”
…..and shuffling into the pulpit, resplendent in his Byzantine vestments, my godfather looks over the top of his glasses upon the congregation.
“I have heard many of you talking today about God’s punishment, His wrath. How you’re good Christians because you hate abortion. But, after listening to the people gathered here, I can’t help but notice that some of you harbor a vituperative attitude towards the very women you want to help.”
People start shifting in their seats uncomfortably.
“I know many of you, like me, are here because you want to defend the unborn. Some of you are motivated by the deepest conviction.”
“But some of you are here because you love to hate.”
“Are you here because you really want to help the unborn?” my godfather asks. “Have you taken an unwed mother into your home? Feed her? Cared for her baby? Or are you here because this is where your friends are? Are you here to indulge in a comforting sense of moral superiority? Smug in your certitude you’re not going to hell?”
Everyone is listening now.
“Let me tell you about something about Hell,” my godfather says, “We know there’s a hell because Jesus said there’s one. But we don’t know if anyone’s actually in it.”
My godfather lets that thought sink in.
“What’s more,” he says, “Jesus never liked hypocrites. He once said, ‘They do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? No! Every thing they do is done to attract attention!”
Now some of the congregants look angry.
“Let me ask you something. Are you relieving these women of their burdens? Or are you adding to them with your self righteousness? Are you helping or hurting? Because if all of your fervor is directed towards feeling good about yourself, if it’s about getting attention, if its about how you’re better than someone else – YOU ARE WASTING GOD’S TIME!”
A couple of people get up to leave. Undaunted my godfather continues.
“The Lord has never been welcome in the house of the righteous and the certain. Instead He walks amidst the damaged and the confused. To Him, the one that is lost is a treasure beyond price. Who are we to judge these women? They are precious treasure. Love, not hatred, is what they need.”
His words reverberate through the church. People are staring at the floor. Some shake their heads in disagreement. Others look thoughtful.
“Remember, the mercy of God is radical and boundless,” my godfather says, “And I thank God everyday that He is more merciful than you or I will ever be.”
My Godfather steps down from the pulpit. I don’t think he was invited back the next year. …..
“Wow,” Beth says.
“I think those people with their haunted house are making things worse. They’re just burdening people with guilt and shame and not lifting a finger to help anyone. It’s all about attention, “Look at me. I’m a righteous son of a bitch.”
“What do you think about abortion?” Beth asks. I tell her.
“Interesting,” Beth says.
“But I’ll tell you something,” I say, “I’ve known women who’ve had abortions. I know what kind of people they are, what they’ve wrestled with and how they live their lives today. They’re not going to hell. Not by a long shot.”
“How can be sure?” Beth asks.
“I believe what my godfather always told me.”
“That God is more merciful than we can possibly imagine.”
“We know there’s a hell but we don’t know if anyone’s in it,” Beth says.
“That’s a lot to think about,” she says.
“Tell me about it,” I say.
A little boy dressed up as Thomas the Train walks in and says, “Trick or Treat.”
I give the kid a Snickers bar. He giggles. Beth giggles. I smile.
I think about that church’s haunted house. This little boy doesn’t need to see that stuff. Halloween is for kids. Can’t the contentious world of adults wait just a little longer? Oh well.
I spend the rest of All Hallows Eve imagining a hell devoid of souls.