THE PRECIOUS GIFT
Presently we alighted and began to walk across a field. A cool breeze wafted its way towards us and Janet breathed deeply.
“How delicious!” she cried. “Sample it, Bernard, and tell me what that fragrance is.”
I did so. The perfume was exquisite. After several seconds of delight I said I thought it was the scent of the rose. “That large deep red rose, Janet!”
“I believe it is. What do you think, Angel?”
“I do not think – I know,” he said, smiling, “for this is the garden of roses.”
“What lovely places you bring us to,” Janet said gratefully. “Everyone does not think so. Look!”
We followed his glance and beheld a young woman standing uncertainly on the fringe of a garden. The scenery was sufficiently beautiful to entrance anyone, for there were broad paths edged with shrubs, and in the borders a mass of roses of every hue. The visitor, however, did not seem to notice all this. She kept looking about her with quick timid glances.
“She looks lonely and nervous,” Janet said. “May we speak to her, dear angel?” Before he could reply, a woman came into view, walking with graceful step up the broad, garden path. She went straight toward the timid one, holding out her hands hospitably.
“Draw near,” said our angel, “quickly, and she will include you in her greeting.” As we approached, the two were standing together.
“You are very welcome, child,” said the deep voice of the older woman. “What is your name?”
“Constance,” said the visitor. “Oh, I am so glad to see you walking about. People don’t just keep still and do nothing, do they? How do you pass the time?”
“Child,” said the woman, whose name I saw was Margaret, of what are you afraid?”
“Of – of eternity,” Constance stammered. “Of having time without end and nothing to do.”
“It does sound rather grim.” Margaret smiled, “Well foolish one I daresay we can find you something to do.” She linked her arm in her companion’s and turned to us. “Well, here are more visitors. Welcome, Janet and Bernard!” I saw at once that she had reached out in thought for our names.
She saw our angel too, for she gave a little bow, though she said nothing. The angel returned the bow, murmuring to us:
“The guides on these lower planes are far advanced, but out of their great love for mankind they give their services here for a lime.”
“Let us all go along together,” Margaret suggested.
We set off along the path. Constance keeping close to her new friend, our angel, as usual, bringing up the rear. The garden was very lovely. Janet and I would have liked to have lingered, but as Margaret and Constance went on, we followed.
All around us, people were working in the garden, bending absorbedly over the rich soil. They have something to do, you see,” Margaret pointed out, “Yes, but I do not care for gardening,” Constance whispered.
“What do you like to do?”
“I used to play my violin for hours. Oh, how the time flew!” Her face lost its timid look as she spoke, then shadowed. “But here – oh, what shall I do here?”
“Play the violin, I suppose,” Margaret said with a smile.
“Can I-is it-oh, surely it cannot be!”
“Why not? But let me show you around.” Constance was looking delighted now. At last she had eyes for the beauty around her, “What are those buildings?” she asked.
I followed the direction of her glance, and saw that the garden widened into a great avenue. On either side were huge buildings with shallow steps approaching tall, massive doors. The curious thing about these buildings was that they had no roofs.
“Those are the Pastimes,” Margaret explained. “See, there are people going in one of the doors. Shall we look within?”
We went quickly toward the steps and soon found ourselves just outside the door. I think I had been visualising a kind of ‘Funfair’ of earth – rows of tables with aisles at intervals, or something like that. Certainly I had a surprise.
There was a vast green, open to the sky, stretching far away into the distance. Here and there men and women were tramping along, or standing in thoughtful attitudes. All at once, the truth flashed upon me. They were playing golf! “How very extraordinary,” Janet said, coming to a realisation at the same time.
“There are many others,” Margaret said. “Come and inspect some more.”
We began a tour of the avenue, then, passing by some of the buildings or pausing at the doors of others. In one of these people were standing at benches, working away with great concentration. Others were using various kinds of machines. “Those are the handicraft workers,” Margaret explained.
In another building, people were sitting at desks, poring with obvious enjoyment over their books. Occasionally the turning of a page disturbed the silence, or someone would rise and go across to the great bookcases for another volume. “Those are the students.”
Again, Margaret led us to a building where a number of games were being played. One section was reserved for tennis, another for cricket, and so on. In one corner a group of people were ‘lost to the world ‘ in a game of cards. At these, for some reason I could not fathom, I stared in great wonder. “Cards in Heaven!” I gasped. You will see the wisdom of it presently,” the angel promised.
At last we came to a building which proclaimed itself; for an orchestra was sending forth its music through the opened door. At once Constance gripped Margaret’s arm pleadingly. “Oh, may I go inside? Please!” “Of course, child.”
Like a flash, Constance was up the steps and within the great door. Margaret and the angel turned to each other, then, and renewed their greeting.
“You are doing a great work in helping these little ones to lose their fear of time,” said our teacher.
“How do you achieve that?” Janet asked. “And why are people afraid of time?” Margaret led us to a seat before replying. When we were all settled she said:
“People on earth are intended to use games and hobbies as a relaxation. Most of them do. Some, however, come to live for their games, to ‘come alive’ as it were, only in the pursuit of them. These people are afraid of time. Perhaps they had great ambitions and they failed. Perhaps they had great sorrows, and desired to blot out the memory of them. Or perhaps, through physical handicaps they were prevented from living a more varied life. Whatever is the cause, these people feared time. They were perpetually trying to ‘pass’ it, to hurry over the hours, yet inexorably another day would dawn. Then there is the opposite type who tries to ‘save’ time. He constantly rushes here and there, striving to do everything a little faster than his neighbours, trying to ‘save time,’ and then, with the leisure won, to concentrate some more energy into ‘saving’ that. These types are alike in that they are afraid of being still, of being alone, of thinking, of realising that there is eternity. That vast, endless quality terrifies them, so they use up every moment.”
“Of course, when they get here, we have to teach them to relax, to show them that eternity is not a fearful, but a wondrous thing.”
“How do you do it?” I asked.
“Well,” she smiled, ” You may think it is a little hard on them, perhaps, but it is most effective! These Pastimes are enclosed so that the doors can be shut at regular intervals (not all at the same time). We announce that the building is to be evacuated and closed. Some of the people think this is a splendid idea, at first. It saves them from monotony and boredom! Then, as they become absorbed in their play, they object to breaking it off at the leader’s command.”
“Something like sending a child off to bed before he has finished reading the chapter in his book!” I chuckled.
“Yes, it is exactly the same,” Margaret said.
“How do the people react to it?” Janet asked.
“At first, they obey willingly. Later, unwillingly. Then, one by one they come to the leaders. ‘Cannot I have a little more time to finish my work?’ they plead. Of course, we answer, ‘Why, you have all eternity!’ Then gradually truth dawns, and they smile!”
“From that moment we teach them to value eternity, how to see it as a precious gift of the Father’s Love. Very soon, they are asking how they can serve their fellow-men, or enquiring if there are places besides the one they know.”
“They do not abandon their games altogether, do they?” Janet asked.
“No, for a long time they return here whenever they will, as a relaxation from learning in other planes. But they are perfectly at peace, for they have come to value eternity.” Our angel intervened then, to say:
“See the wise provision of Heaven! They have their fulfilment right from the very beginning, yet every moment is a time of learning. Behold the Father’s Love!”