I loathed Halloween as a child.
The first reason was because of my mom. While she is a universally beloved saint, she committed a monstrous misdeed years and years ago – she dressed up my brother Tom and me as girls for trick-or-treating one Halloween when we were preschoolers.
Yes, there is photographic proof.
Yes, my brother and I were adorable.
No, our neighborhood friends were not forgiving.
The second reason was because of Sister Agnissa and the other nuns at St. Mary’s Elementary School. These elderly women (their average age seemed to be 98) were committed to making sure we students improved our minds and cleansed our souls, which we dutifully pursued out of the fear of getting our knuckles wrapped and the terror of being condemned to the flames of everlasting hell.
They nurtured in me more than a healthy respect for the devil, making it impossible for this catechism-crazed kid to enjoy Halloween with its demonic associations.
I’m good with Halloween as an adult.
The first reason is because I have been married to a psychologist for 34 years who has helped me exorcise my childhood demons. She loves the old photo of her husband playing the role of the adorable cross-dressing trick-or-treater, and she has softened my Catholic guilt and the memories of Sister Agnissa’s crooked finger poking in my face.
With her help, I no longer have post trick-or-treating stigma disorder, and I see demon-dressed children as the cute candy seekers they are and not the hellion grandchildren of Linda Blair.
The second reason is because I have come to respect Sister Agnissa and the other nuns. Near my hometown is Oldenburg, Indiana, which has a cemetery for nuns where Sister Agnissa and most of the other St. Mary’s nuns are buried. It is an incredibly peaceful and beautiful place.
I learned from her tombstone that Sister Agnissa’s given name was Stephanie Fleckenstein and she died on Jan. 20, 1981. Through my many visits to her gravesite, I have come to accept that, even through her harsher than harsh ways, Sister Agnissa wanted what was best for my mind and soul.
There is a third reason I am fine with Halloween now – its ghouls and goblins are toothless compared to today’s real demons. It would take some creative costuming, but imagine if trick-or-treaters came to our door this Halloween dressed as global climate change, world hunger, refugee crises, antibiotic-resistant super bugs, domestic violence, mass shootings, international terrorism, nuclear holocaust, cyber espionage, and U.S. tribalism.
These are the monsters that keep me awake at night. They are hiding under our beds and in our closets. We are experts at tricking ourselves that they do not exist or will go away on their own.
Wouldn’t it be a treat if we could put aside our petty differences nationally and internationally to eradicate each of these monsters so our children and their children never have to be scared of them?
If we could pull that off, I would share with anyone interested that old adorable photo.
Note to readers: David Hellmich is president of Sauk Valley Community College, rural Dixon.