I had a dream last week that quite unsettled me. In it, I was working for a 7-11 type convenience store, going around stocking shelves, when I came upon a bin of marshmallows. I absentmindedly picked one up and ate it, assuring myself that I would put the money in the cash register for the marshmallow by the end of my shift. But the unexpected happened - I woke up before I could do that. I remember as I came to consciousness thinking, I never paid for that marshmallow, and now I never can!
Most of my family and friends know that I am always hearing the clock of mortality ticking away and my list of things I want to accomplish is longer while the years available to me grow shorter. As I'm not a big fan of reincarnation, although I believe in life after death, and when this physical life is gone, I know my time on earth will have run out and leave me with things undone.
Much of my to-do list is creative - the quilts I want to make (or finish!), the sewing techniques I want to learn, the harp lessons I want to have someday. Also on my to-do list are life events I don't want to miss - graduations, weddings, watching my grandchildren mature. But the marshmallow dream did not address any of these important concerns. What unsettled me about the dream is the debt I couldn't repay, and, like in most dreams, I believe it's not financial debt that disquieted me.
I love the idea of passing it on - in fact, that is one of my favorite hymns.
It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That's how it is with God's Love,
Once you've experienced it,
You spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on.
Certainly, God's love - but also the debt I owe to countless people, living and dead. I have been the recipient of so much love, wisdom, knowledge, concern, compassion, patience, encouragement, sacrifice - and I'm so afraid I have not taken, nor will I get, the opportunity to pass it on, to pay my debt.
It's strange that we talk about convicted prisoners "paying their debts" to society, for we all have our accumulated debt to society. In a perfect world, the way to pay this debt is to pass it on - because I have been shown patience, I must show patience to others. Because I know what unconditional love and acceptance feels, I must show that to others. Because I have had the greatest parents and teachers in the world, I must pass on their knowledge and wisdom. Because I have had disappointing, even heartbreaking experiences in life, I must share the lessons I learned. Because I know what fear can do, I must help find peace for those who are afraid.
Somehow I must be able to balance my life between being too panicky about its ending before I'm ready, and being too blasé about my responsibilities and the fiendish ability to downplay the difference my individual life makes to the whole. This is the tightrope I hesitantly walk.
One of my greatest regrets in life would be to wake up from it and realize I had always planned to pay for the marshmallow - indeed, I had wanted to - but it was too late.
I will end with another favorite hymn that I started humming during the writing of this post: