I Had a Dream
It was winter. Late at night. Perhaps a year or two ago. I was in my den, in my favorite chair, warmed by an open fire in the fireplace. A dram of whiskey on the table beside me, an unchallenging but pleasant book fallen open in my lap. I felt the soft, inviting fog of sleepy contentment envelop me like a blanket.
All was good, and quiet, and peaceful.
Ever so slightly, I became aware of the presence of another in the room. I turned my head to see a youngish man, at least one younger than I, sitting quietly on the couch to the side, looking peacefully at me with an expression of loving bemusement on his face. I did not recognize him, though it felt as if I might have, perhaps, long ago. He did not speak, but seemed to wait patiently for me to initiate conversation.
Oddly, I was neither concerned nor surprised at the unexpected company. “Hello,” I said, “May I help you with something?”
“Perhaps,” the stranger answered, “but I would prefer to speak of other things this evening. How are you?”
The direct simplicity of his question startled me. How am I? What exactly did he mean? Physically, I am in about the typical condition of a man my age, give or take a few random aches and pains. Mentally, I continue to hold my own and am able to fulfill my professional and personal obligations to a relatively high standard. Spiritually? Well, I participate regularly and mindfully in the performance of my religious obligations. So, I guess the answer would be, “pretty good.”
But somehow I knew that that answer did not fit the question. This man with the patient eyes seemed to be asking something much more fundamental, essential even. He wanted to know how I am.
The question unsettled me to my core. It asked for an answer much deeper, more intimate and more honest than the response I would normally give to another person making the same inquiry. Did I even know the standard against which I was to judge the relative state of my existence, my happiness, my life?
The young man smiled. I thought I caught a flicker of amusement in his eyes. He asked a second question: “What do you want?”
The lawyer in me wanted to respond “Well, that’s an awfully broad and open question,” but I refrained. I knew that the question was very specific, specific to me.
In that instant, I felt every wall, every barrier, every objection, every mask, every prideful artifice dissolve, disappear, evaporate. The answer to that question had to be personal, had to be real, had to be unvarnished, had to be truthful. The stranger waited with patient acceptance.
“I guess I want everything,” I answered. “Health, wealth, success and happiness in this life, and heaven in the next.”
I was shocked to hear my own words.
“This world holds no such promises,” the young man replied. “Sunlight and rain fall similarly on both the just and the unjust. But you are meant for more than this world. Your destiny is to share in the life everlasting, the promise of which is true, and deserving of faith. Do not be discouraged by misgivings and failures; they serve as exercise by which you gain the strength to persevere on the path to your ultimate goal. Be assured that that goal is within your reach. You know the way; follow it, and lead others to the same destination.”
As my eyes refocused on the flickering light of the fireplace flames, I realized that I was once again alone. Clearly, I thought, I had been dreaming. Yet I could not shake the feeling that I had experienced something transformational. That I had come to understand a truth that had been before me all my life. That I was being challenged to step beyond my focus on pursuing a comfortable life for myself and try to make a positive impact on the world for the benefit of my fellow co-inhabitants. But what would that be, and how would I accomplish it?
I did not know, at least not at that moment. But I knew that I could not simply sit in my chair by the fire waiting to be told.