It's a concept from Celtic spirituality. There's this idea that there are places where the barriers between this world and other worlds--other planes, other dimensions, other spheres of existence--are 'thin.' Thus the dead can visit with the living. Or vice versa, depending on your perspective.
Hallowe'en, or All Hallows' Eve, is a kind of temporal 'thin place.' It is the night before the Feast of All Souls, when devout Catholics go to pray for the dead. And so at this time of year, the dead are with us.
Not the dead, but the past always seems so... so... present to me this time of year. Memories break over me like waves.
Like this one.
My sister had a friend named Kevin. Kevin was a big guy. This was in the era before anybody had a gym membership. And Kevin won big in the genetic lottery, not needing to go to one. He was huge and built.
And, as Kevin would put it, a homo. And a great role model for little ol' seventeen year old me, budding homo that I was back then. Once while walking down New Street in New Hope, Kevin and I, yucking it up over something or other, passed a group of teenagers. When we were about five paces beyond, Kevin and I heard 'fucking faggots' and 'cocksuckers' said sotto voce.
Kevin spun around, and bellowed, "Y'know what, boys? The only thing I like more than sucking cock is KICKING ASS!"
They scattered. They totally fled. Like in a cartoon, only they didn't leave outlines of themselves, arms akimbo, in a nearby brick wall.
Another memory. I was venturing out to gay bars for the first time in my life. Mostly the guys I met were kinda predatory. A little scary for naive and inexperienced me. (Well, selectively naive. I fisted a man when I was seventeen or so. (Yeah, I guess seventeen was a pretty good year, all things considered.) Anyway, one night at Woody's in Philadelphia, I was approached by this amazingly handsome man. An incredible body, jet black hair with ringlet curls, unbelievably sensuous lips. One of my masturbatory fantasies come to life, and coming on to me.
I took him home, to my kooky little apartment on 22nd Street. I'm not sure when it was I suspected that he was crazy, but conversation back at my apartment confirmed it. I offered tea (I had one of those tiered hanging basket things, the lowest and largest basket filled with an impressive array of Celestial Seasonings teas). He explained to me that he had tested positive for HIV. He new that bleach killed HIV, and that there was chlorine in bleach. And the chemical name for table salt is Sodium Chloride. Chlorine, chloride. Same thing, right? And so by ingesting huge quantities of salt, he had cured himself of HIV. He told me this because I had told him I was thinking of volunteering with ActionAIDS in Philadelphia, and he wanted me to take this news to them. It could help people.
As he told me this, I was standing in the kitchen, waiting for the water to boil. (I know, you should never do that, cuz a watched pot never boils.) The blood rushed to my head. If I hadn't been able to brace myself against the stove, I would have passed out. I was fainting. Pour quoi? Because I knew that in a short while, he would be fucking me. This proved to be a correct assumption.
And one more.
It was, I think, 1989. I was now a volunteer 'buddy' with ActionAIDS. I was a lousy buddy. I didn't have much in common with the three men I was paired with, and felt awkward and stupid always. One of my buddies wanted to go to the display of the Quilt down in Washington, DC. So I rode down with him on the bus. We separated to see the quilt, and agreed on a meeting place before we got back on the bus. I was there. He wasn't. I went to the bus, and he wasn't there either. I headed back to our meeting place. He didn't show. I missed the bus. So there I was, trapped in Washington DC. Not a problem, thought I, I could just go to an ATM and buy a bus ticket. I decided to head to the bars that night and try my luck, and head back the next morning.
That night, at the Eagle, I met a man named Douglas. He was a Marine. Active duty. I went home with him. In the middle of having sex, Douglas broke down, saying he couldn't go through with this. I asked him what was wrong. He began to cry.
He told me that three days prior, his lover, also an active duty Marine, had hung himself in their basement. He had been told that he was HIV positive in the wake of a routine blood test by the medics. What this meant, back then, was that he'd be discharged. The Marines knew they lived together. And would probably discharge both of them. So Douglas had lost his lover, and his career. The next day, he and I went to the Quilt together. He was weeping most of the time. I remember he'd offer a salute when the quilts indicated that the person commemorated had been in the military. One quilt bore the image of a crane, head lifted up, mouth open. Douglas explained to me the Chinese folklore about how cranes mourn their dead mates, and are thus symbols of love that transcends death.
I felt soooo out of my death, being there with Douglas. I wasn't able to help that man through that experience.
When I got home, I couldn't read his phone number that he had written for me. He was unlisted. I haven't been able to talk to him since. From time to time, I'll plug his name into Google. I hope he's out there somewhere, and that our paths will cross again.