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Chapter V: The Home of Rest
One of the great charms of this life is the singular appositeness of every event to the time and place of its occurrence; wish and desire are very closely interwoven with the opportunity for their gratification. Almost the first communication made to me after my arrival was that I should find it to be a land of surprises. Now that I had time for a little thought and reflection, one of the chief of these was found in the perfectly natural condition of everything – physical, intellectual and spiritual. This was in nothing more emphatically noticeable than in my inclination and surroundings the moment after I had lost my guide and companion. While he was present all my powers were on the qui vive both to see and hear the lessons he exerted himself to unfold, and these succeeding each other with such amazing rapidity left me no time for anything more than crude appropriation, while my memory was called upon to store them hurriedly for more mature consideration and reflection by and by. How much food for calm digestion I had thus acquired, I had not even time to think, though doubtless it was fully known to my instructor, and his departure was due to the necessity for me to pause and see how far I had travelled in the pilgrimage of knowledge from the point where I had first made his acquaintance. At all events my first idea when left alone was that nothing could be so welcome to me as the one opportunity now within my reach.
In the olden life, when my soul wished to throw itself before the majesty of the Infinite, and the quiet country lay beyond my reach, I would turn to Westminster Abbey, and surrounded by the matchless beauty of its nave, where stone and harmony, poetry and architecture, symmetry and history are blended in such unparalleled design, throw restriction to the winds, and soar upwards on the wings of the hallowed associations which bathed the Abbey like a benediction. I asked no preacher to direct my thoughts, since the memories of a thousand years discoursed within the pulpit of my breast; I sought no choir or organ, for in the arches and triforium, lingered the echoing cadences of Jubilate and Miserere sung by pious monks in centuries passed by. I wished to join no congregation save that of those great and noble examples whose bodies lay beneath my feet. Alone in such silent grandeur, in the presence of the peace of death, where the sunbeams falling through the clerestory windows seemed like ladders dropped by angels whence the souls of saints might climb to heaven, my heart was free to make its full confession and hear the absolution whispered in the silence of that house of prayer.
It may be that in some of those seasons of reverie and renunciation Eusemos had found a place among the angels and ministering spirits which surrounded me unseen; or perhaps when meditating on the many things I failed to understand, with the mantle of night around me and a canopy of stars above, he may have carried one of my many prayers for light and guidance upward, and thus have learned the habit of my soul-communion with the accessories most congenial to that state of mind. Who can tell? It might be so; or, on the other hand, it might be due to that natural adaptation of everything to each other to which I have referred. Whichever it was, one thing is certain; the desire for contemplation and the discovery of the one place most calculated to enhance my wish were simultaneous revelations, for the scene of my reflection was a combination of both my favoured haunts.
I have said it was a grove or avenue leading at right angles from the path whereon we had been walking; a gentle descent a mile or more in length, formed of stately trees so planted that their branches held each other in kindly embraces. Overhead a roof more exquisite in architectural beauty than even that of Westminster – the leaves like glass transparent, lending an added softness to the sun as they passed its beams through into the sanctuary which wooed me. The emerald carpet reflected the glory which seemed articulate with invitation to enter and gather up the harvest of hope deferred, and reap the hundredfold fruition of all the sighs and prayers which met with no response on earth.
This invitation was too welcome just then for me to refuse, so I turned from out the open path into that soft retreat of melody and repose. Above my head the leaves rustled in rhythmic lullabies, at my feet the flowers found voice and wooed my soul in love-songs of perfume; in the distance I could hear cascades of water adding their soft and refreshing music to the harmony. while the carolling notes of winged songsters first made me conscious of the fact that birds, as well as men, find in paradise a continuation of their earth existence.
The grove ran through the centre of what may be called a garden park well stocked with large and luxuriant trees, somewhat low in growth, compared with the avenue itself, but having far-reaching arms like oaks or chestnuts, beneath which were beautiful beds of flowers or mosses, whereon numbers of people were reclining. Many others were walking to and fro with that languid, careful gait naturally assumed in the first days of exercise after sickness; others again, were resting on the numerous seats dotted about the grass, as if although their strength was not yet so far regained as to allow of walking, yet so reposing they were drawing a first invigoration from the life-giving aroma of the breezes which fanned them. The whole aspect of the place was that of a convalescent home, and I could not perceive any incongruity in the thought that such places could serve a useful purpose to the weary and heavy-laden souls of earth, to rest and recoup themselves after the prostration of life’s fitful fever. The possibility of this made me glad, as well as offered more food for reflection; and seeing a vacant patch of moss beneath the branches of a wide-spreading tree, I threw myself upon it, without a question as to the right and propriety of so doing, and gave myself up to contemplation.
I cannot say how long my reverie continued, or that the course my thoughts pursued was very definite and consecutive. I was most conscious of the fact that I was resting; not merely enjoying one of those brief lulls overwrought strength demanded for recuperation, and which was so frequently forced. upon me in the other life, but I was filled with a sense of returning vigour and youth, carrying with at first the suggestion, then a continually increasing certainty, that the reel of life was being rapidly turned backward, as it were, and that I was regaining the robust health for so many years waning away. It was a surprising, a delightful experience, and I yielded myself to it readily and gratefully. I lay in a state of semi-enchantment; every moment brought some new sensation, and a thousand capabilities seemed to be on the point of unfolding within me, of which I had been unconscious, had never dreamed of before. Strange feelings supervened, as if bands were snapping, restrictions giving way; and my soul enlarging, expanded and rejoiced in its new-found freedom.
I no longer felt I was the victim of circumstances, for all contending influences had been withdrawn, and something whispered that their absence was not a temporary cessation in the struggle, but that I had secured a victory final and complete. The state of mind engendered by all these revelations can neither be described to nor appreciated by those who have not passed through the blissful experience. Every cell in my soul laboured to absorb the overpowering revelation; every avenue in my being drank, and drinking, still thirsted for the life-exalting stream which overflowed me; every fibre in my body thrilled and trembled under the sweet new functions it was called upon to perform. While I was thus half-intoxicated with the exquisite pleasures in which I bathed, the very air playing around me seemed to be peopled with a hundred fairy voices which cried: “Yield, yield!” and, nothing loath, I threw myself in fearless abandonment into their embraces and lost my consciousness in the rejuvenating sleep of paradise.
I have no idea how long that sleep continued, since time in this new life is measured by result achieved and not by revolutions of the sun or dial. All I can say is that when I woke I found all the transformations which had induced the slumber in their commencement had been completed. The furrows had been kissed away from my face, the silver threads in my hair eliminated; the fountain of weariness within me had been dried up; while all the new powers and capabilities were so blended and dove-tailed into my being, that though the same old consciousness and recollection remained – the same individuality with its loves, its hopes, and aspirations – I was equally aware that a new and enlarged nature had been added by those mysterious influences at work upon me – a nature invulnerable alike to weariness and disappointment.
Perhaps one of my strangest experiences of this life occurred at this moment. I had scarcely aroused myself from the power of that slumber when I felt that it was leaving me, never more to return. How I knew this I cannot tell, yet the certainty of the fact could not be denied. Pain, doubt, disappointment and the hundred other sensations of earth with which we are familiarised as being peculiar to the body, it is easy to tear one’s self from, and the partings brings with it a degree of satisfaction. But Sleep is different. It is the most tried and by far the most constant friend which poor humanity can possess. Its breast is a pillow upon which every head may safely lie in weariness; its arms are never full, and every outcast vagabond is always sure of its caress.
In its disrespect of persons it comes nearer the character of God than any other attribute of earth – the saint and sinner, the prodigal and thrifty, the profligate and prudent receive from sleep an equal salutation. She has no power to judge, and faithful to the work assigned her, welcomes to her house alike the assassin and his judge, the rival armies of contending nations, the hunted and the hunter, and bids them rest beneath her sure protection without a sense of fear. Some call her fickle and uncertain, and seek to find in her that measure of perfection impossible to be attained by earth, of whom she is a child; upon themselves let all the blame of her shortcomings fall since the error is their own for lifting up a standard nothing mortal has power to reach. Who dares to rise and say she has her favourites in the family of man? If any speak and seek to bring such evidence, it will be found that in her seeming choice the great nobility of her soul will shine more beautifully bright. Where would such be found? Not in the palace or the mansion where flattering courtiers or whining sycophants are wont to seek for place or power, but in the hovel or the den she may be found to linger perhaps in tenderer sympathy, while she seeks to close the eyelids with a surer seal.
Here with her Godlike grasp she curbs the cravings of the hungry stomach, and with her visions makes endurance possible till tardy relief brings up supplies; or else, in concert with her sister Charity, she lingers by the bed of pain, that her anaesthetic charm may numb the poignant shafts which make the victim long for ease or death. Within the audience-chamber of her home what severed hearts have been united, what prodigals persuaded to return, and what misunderstandings explained. Yea, has she not done even more than this, for when the sorrowing mother, father, friend has fallen fainting into her arms, broken-hearted at the loss of one whom Death has slain, has Sleep not, once and again, come forth to champion the cause of the bereaved, and standing at the gate of Death exerted the power that made the cruel bolts give way, and held the gate ajar while dead and living met again in communion hallowed by the parting? This, and far more than this, had she been to me; of all my earthly friends most dear; and at the moment of my waking I was conscious she was withdrawing her hand from mine and I should never grasp it more. Through all the vicissitudes of life she had been my faithful companion – the only one, so far as memory served me, who had never in any single instance, forsaken me.
No we were parting. She had reached the limit of her domain, but my path lay onward across a future without a horizon, a sunset or a daybreak. In such a life there was no need for Sleep. Is it strange or wonderful that I should woo the fading sensation to linger in its adieu? Yet I was not sorry to part from such tried and pleasant companionship; it marked a stage in ascent of the ladder of life. I was grateful for the service it had rendered me, but the newly-acquired powers were taking hold upon me, and I was anxious to secure the possibilities they brought within my reach. Therefore we parted with the earnest wish that every needy soul would find her as faithful and consoling as she had been to me, and when in turn they too should part from her pleasant company that it would be with the fragrant memories I should continue to cherish.
I had scarcely recovered myself before my attention was attracted to a man who might be the doctor of the imaginary sanatorium in whose grounds I had been reposing. He was at some distance from me when I first saw him, and as he neared, made frequent stoppages with one and another of the convalescents as if enquiring after their welfare and condition. This gave me an opportunity of observing him before he reached me, for I felt confident that such was his destination.
Contrary to Eusemos he was rather short in stature, but being spare of build it was not so noticeable as might otherwise have been the case. His face and complexion were Egyptian, with bright liquid black eyes brimming over with kindness and good humour, the first physiognomical reading of it proclaiming him to be an embodiment of sympathy and tenderness. In age he might be young, but there was something in his action and movement which made me think he was old – very old, and that his lithe and youthful vigour were necessary to bear the weight of that experience so obviously manifest in everything he did. There was none of the nervousness and excitement about him one naturally looks for in young men who are clothed in the mantle of authority; no impatience at being hindered or reluctance to perform an unexpected duty. On the contrary each and every transaction he was called upon to execute, no matter how trivial, was attended to with a thoroughness which suggested that it was the principal object of his care or solicitation. It was evident that time was of no importance to him, for he was ready alike to smooth a couch, help a patient to a more desirable location or throw his arm around another who wished to take a walk. I could not hear his voice, but I was confident from his demeanour, that not a little of the success accomplished was due to his cheery conversation, which seemed to impart the strength of which they stood so much in need. Any one of these, or numerous other, services being rendered, he would tarry awhile then with a kindly wave of the hand turn away and look for an opportunity to lend some other assistance wherever it should be asked or he with his alert perception deemed it beneficial.
It so happened that I had time to observe him well before he reached me, and all ideas of his being a stranger to me, or I to him, had vanished from my mind. I had risen from my couch, but the half-droll, half-reproachful look sparkling in his eyes as he came to meet me made me forget my previous intention to apologise if I had committed any error in using the floral couch on which I had taken my sleep, for I felt conscious that I had only an indulgent friend – shall I say, father – to deal with. As he came up, his hand was extended to take mine, which he clasped and shook in true fraternal greeting, gave his shoulders a very peculiar and significant shrug, inclined his head towards his left side, and looked humorously into my eyes, as he asked,
“May I offer my congratulations this time?”
“This time?” I repeated, taxing my memory as to where I could possibly have seen him before.
“Now, now!” said he, shaking his head and one finger in a humorously menacing manner. “You have been napping, and I caught you at it.”
“Yes, I have been sleeping” I replied; “but I am sorry if I have caused you any trouble or inconvenience by so doing.”
“Hush, hush, hush, hush! Don’t apologise” he said; “that which is natural is right, and never needs to be repented of. As to trouble and inconvenience, you parted from them as you came through the mists, and if you wish to renew their acquaintance, I am afraid you will be disappointed, for they could not exist in this life.”
“I hope then, that by sleeping I have not interfered with your arrangements, for I presume you are the friend I expected to meet me here.”
“Yes, I am Cushna; and as to your sleeping, why, that was more an item in the programme than a disturbance of the same.”
“I am glad to hear that. But, tell me, have I been sleeping for long, for I have not the least idea?”
“Neither have I,” he replied, with another of those significant shrugs of the shoulders which I found to be indicative of a vein of humour passing through his mind. Then he continued: “You see it may be that we are at a disadvantage in that respect; or, on the other hand, it may be fortunate we have no idea of time, since, in the first place, we have no clocks here, and then, if we had, they would not go.”
“Let me explain. This very pleasant spot is the Home of Rest, and all who are here come for that purpose. Now you understand that there was nothing extraordinary in my finding you asleep. Well, in the long, long ago – how long I have idea, but probably in the early years of earth’s history – it is said that Time paid a visit to this home, and was so delighted will the facilities for rest and repose that it stopped, and no one has induced it to move since. That is why I cannot say how long you slept, and also the reason why clocks would not go if we had them Is it not a good one?”
“Excellent! But I am surprised –”
“That is very probable,” he rejoined, before I could finish, my sentence. “Surprise is a native of this life, and whenever you see her you will find her face bright with pleasant smiles, and she is a very delightful companion to grow acquainted with. When she visits the earth, she frequently disguises herself with a veil of disappointment, and pays her visits in the shades of the gloaming, so that but few people have any idea that she is one of God’s favourite angels. But here you will soon learn to love her, and catch yourself listening for her silvery voice in every dell, and looking for the brightness of her coming from every hill-top. No one of the angels contributes so much to our enjoyment in this life as she does, and her visits are always welcome and courted.”
“Under such circumstances, I can well understand that surprises are pleasant things; but I did not think it possible to sleep here.”
“And why not?” he asked. “Sleep is the bride of weariness, and so exemplary is their attachment to each other, that slander has been disarmed before them, and no suspicion has ever marred their nuptial bond. Sleep sometimes is coy, but like the rest of womankind, she plays the part in order to excite her lover’s wooing; and he who seeks to win her best regards, can only gain his purpose in ministering to the requirements of her spouse. Therefore, where weariness is, sleep will come; and where the one is to be found, there is no necessity for the other. When you have been toiling under the weight of a heavy burden, you may lay that down, but the fatigue it has occasioned cannot be so easily laid beside it; when a sickness has been struggled with and subdued, the consequent prostration has still to be overcome; but if that illness prove to be the victor, and secures the divorcement of the soul from the body, think you some miracle is wrought to overcome the weariness of the struggle? Everything in nature – animal, vegetable, and mineral – has its season of repose. After all labour cometh rest. Why should we expect to find an exception in the case of the wearied soul! The conflict and the battle over, does it not still require recuperation and sleep to regain its healthful vigour? ‘So He giveth His beloved sleep! and in that sleep the boundary is passed at which weariness is compelled to say adieu.”
“Do all persons sleep on entering this life?”
“Not necessarily! Sleep divides two states of the soul’s developments, as night divides two days. Some persons, when they reach this life, have not attained to such a standard as to dispense with it, and their condition remains much as it was before, until they are enabled to reach one of the many homes similar to this where they pass the boundary line and, then, being beyond the reach of weariness, never require to sleep again. Others, again, pass the spiritual standard before leaving the earth, and so make but a temporary stay here, while growing accustomed to their new surroundings; they then pass on to higher homes.”
“I feel as if I could never become familiarised to such a life. It is so strange, or, rather, so different from what I expected. It has so many revelations, so much that I need to have explained that I can fancy eternity will scarcely be long enough for me to understand it all.”
“We shall never be able to understand it all, my brother,” he answered, with a depth of pathos that I had not heard in him before. “I am only just beginning to comprehend, and others, who have reached far higher glories than I have attained to, say the same thing. The highest soul with which we are acquainted says he is but standing upon the shore, looking out and across, the sea of infinity, over which he needs an eternity to sail, but he knows not what lies beyond for him to solve and explore before he can discern all the fullness of glory and development God has prepared for our future enjoyment. All we can do is to seek to know that which is here around us, when we have comprehended that, the law of this existence will raise us to wider and higher fields of contemplation, and so we shall mount the ladder whose top rests against the throne of God.”
“Such is a delightful occupation, and all the more so because everything is conducive to knowledge, so far as I have been able to understand – so different to what I was taught or led to expect. But when I look inwards and see my limited powers, then outwards and find that every question I ask gives birth to a hundred others in the reply it receives, I almost fear to think of the time that must elapse before I can begin to climb. What I have already seen is more of heaven than I had ever dreamed – more than I feel I shall ever have the power to grasp – how can I hope to move?”
“I can fully appreciate the feeling which overpowers you,” he said. “What you are I was once; and with a lively recollection of my own experience, it gives me much joy to help you at the commencement of your journey. As for the time which must be spent in these studies, take no care. I told you time had stopped so whatever may be necessary for the accomplishment of God’s design in you, will not in any way diminish the remainder. In this the arithmetic of eternity varies from that of time – when you have subtracted all the ages required to perfect your education the infinite quantity remaining will always be the same. Whenever you see anything you do not understand, ask; and when you ask stand still, and do not hesitate to wait until you have mastered your enquiries. In this way you will soon learn, and to assist in such explanation will be a source of pleasure to every soul you meet.”
“That I have already discovered, for since my arrival I have done nothing but question every friend I have met.”
“Continue to do so; you will then find that knowledge is more easily acquired than you imagine at present.”
“I will not forget your advice. But, tell me, is it customary for newly-arrived persons to travel as I have done?”
“The law of love, by which alone we are governed, is a very flexible one,” he answered,” and adapts itself to every individual requirement; the system of administration being with a view to secure the greatest results in every direction. Therefore the watchers at the mists scrutinise every soul on arrival, not to judge – that being no part of their duty – but to assist to the full extent of their power. They are skilled in reading character, learn the tastes and disposition of all who pass them, and flash their communications to central stations for the peculiar aid required for each individual; in less time than it takes me to explain, the most suitable provision is made, and one or more attendants are despatched to meet the friend in the arena or on the slopes, which is the appointed meeting-place.”
“How do they recognise the particular stranger they are deputed to help in all the multitude passing to and fro?”
“By the robes they wear.”
“But where so many are of the same colour do they not make frequent mistakes?”
“Never. The messengers engaged in that work are too well initiated into their duties to make any error. The colours may appear alike to you, but to them there are distinguishing shades, each of which indicates a corresponding feature of the mind, and having also certain peculiarities to which individual ministers are assigned. There is no possibility of any mistake.”
“Is this strictly infallible as a guide?”
“Yes. That is produced by the spiritual chemistry of the life they have lived, and nothing is able to change or falsify it – it is a testimony which cannot lie. Directly we see your dress the blending of pink and blue – we know that you have a desire to learn the truth and an open mind to receive it, since blue denotes truth and pink charity. There are other indications that at present you would not be able to understand, which tell of your search after truth, and disappointment in the past, therefore whoever sees you will be anxious to afford all available assistance in rectifying past failures. This is why you are invited to travel, that you may satisfy your thirst for truth by seeing it as it is.”
“I appreciate your goodness,” I replied, “and hope you will not find me a too troublesome student.”
“We are not afraid of that; and now, if you are sufficiently rested, let me give you an insight into some of the services we are called upon to render to the different friends we have entrusted to our care in this home.”
With this he rose from the couch where he had been sitting beside me during our conversation, and placing his arm within my own, led me away in the direction from which he came when I first saw him.
“Was I wrong in thinking these are the grounds of a convalescent home or sanatorium?” I asked, as we walked along.
“Not very,” he answered, “and I am about to ask your attention to the means we employ in administering to the restoration of some who are weak and helpless.”