AN EMPTY CHINA CUP
It is no wonder that children, no matter
how old and experienced their souls, have to be retaught in each life the
relative values of all things according to the artificial standards of the
world; for out here those values lose their meaning.
That a soul had houses, lands, and honours among men
does not increase his value in our eyes. We cannot hope to profit by his
discarded riches. The soul in the "hereafter" builds its own house, and the
materials thereof are free as air. If I use the house which another has built, I
miss the enjoyment of creating my own.
There is nothing worth stealing out here, so no one
trembles for fear of burglars in the night. Even bores can be escaped by
retiring to the very centre of oneself, for a bore is himself too self-centred
ever to pierce to the centre of anyone else.
On earth you value titles, inherited or acquired;
here a man’s name is not of much importance even to himself, and a visiting-card
would be lost through the cracks in the floor of heaven. No footman angel would
ever deliver it to his Lord and Master.
One day I met a lady recently arrived. She had not been
here long enough to have lost her assurance of superiority over ordinary men and
angels. That morning I had on my best Roman toga, for I had been reliving the
past; and the lady, mistaking me for Caesar or some other ancient aristocrat,
asked me to direct her to a place where gentlewomen congregated.
I was forced to admit that I did not know of any such
resort; but as the visitor seemed lonely and bewildered, I invited her to rest
beside me for a time and to question me if she wished.
"I have been here several months," I said, "and have
gained considerable experience."
It was plain to see that she was puzzled by my remark.
She glanced at my classical garment, and I could feel her thinking that there
was something incongruous between it and my assertion that I had been here only
a few months.
"Perhaps you are an actor," she said.
"We are all actors here," I replied.
This seemed to puzzle her more than ever, and she
said that she did not understand. Poor lady! I felt sorry for her, and I tried
my best to explain to her the conditions under which we live.
"You must know in the first place," I said, "that this
is the land of realised ideals. Now a man who has always desired to be a king
can play the part up here if he wishes to, and no one will laugh at him; for
each spirit has some favourite dream which he acts out to his own satisfaction.
"We have, madam," I continued, "reacquired the
tolerance and the courtesy of children who never ridicule on another’s play."
"Is heaven merely a play-room?" she asked, in a shocked
"Not at all," I answered; "but you are not in heaven."
Her look of apprehension caused me immediately to add:
"Nor are you in hell, either. What was your religion
upon the earth?"
"Why, I professed the usual religion of my country and
station; but I never gave it much thought."
"Perhaps the idea of purgatory is not unfamiliar to
"I am not a papist," she said, with some warmth.
"Nevertheless, a papist in your position would conceive
himself to be in purgatory."
"I am certainly not happy," she admitted, "because
everything is so strange."
"Have you no friends here?" I inquired.
"I must have many acquaintances," she said; "but I
never cared for intimate friendships. I used to entertain a good deal; my
husband’s political position demanded it."
"Perhaps there is someone on this side to whom you were
specially kind at some time or other, someone whose grief you helped to bear,
whose poverty you eased."
"I patronised our organised charities."
"I fear that sort of help is too impersonal to be
remembered here. Have you no children?"
"No brothers or sisters on this side?"
"I quarrelled with my only brother for marrying beneath
"But surely," I said, "you must have had a mother. Was
she not waiting for you when you came over?"
This surprised me, for I had been told that all
mother spirits who have not gone back to the world know by a peculiar thrill
when a child to which they have given birth is about to be reborn into the
spiritual world—a sort of sympathetic after-pain, the final and sweetest reward
"Then she must have reincarnated," I said.
"Do you hold to that pagan belief?" the lady inquired,
with just a touch of superiority. "I thought that only queer people,
Theosophists and such, believed in reincarnation."
"I was always queer," I admitted. "But you know, of
course, dear madam, that about three-quarters of the earth’s inhabitants are
familiar with that theory in some form or other."
We continued our talk for a little time, and meanwhile
I was puzzling my heart as to what I could do to help this poor lonely woman,
for whom no one was waiting. I passed in mental review this and that ministering
angel of acquaintance, and wondered which of them would be considered most
correct from the conventional earthly point of view. The noblest of them was
usually at the side of some newly arrived unfortunate woman—to use a euphemism
of that polite society which my latest protégée had frequented. The
others were here, there, and everywhere, but generally with those souls who
needed them the most; while the need of my present companion was more real than
urgent. If Lionel had been here, he might have entertained her for a while.
I wished that I had cultivated the acquaintance of
some of those ladies who crochet and gossip in this world as they crocheted and
gossipped in yours. Do not be shocked. Did you fancy that a lifelong habit could
be laid aside in a moment? As women on earth dream often of their knitting, so
they do here. It is as easy to knit in this world as it is to dream in yours.
Understand that the world in which I now live is no
more essentially sacred than is the world in which you live, nor is it any more
mysterious to those who dwell in it. To the serious soul all conditions are
sacred—except those that are profane, and both are found out here as well as on
But to return to the lonely woman. I was still
wondering what I should do with her when, looking up, I saw the Teacher
approaching. He had with him another woman, as like the first as one empty china
cup is like another empty china cup. Then he and I went away and left the two
"I did not know," I said to the Teacher, "that you
troubled yourself with any souls but those of considerable development."
"It was your perplexity which I came to relieve, not
that of those poor ladies."
Then he began to talk to me about relative values.
"In a sense," he said, "one soul is as much worth
helping as another; in a deeper sense, perhaps it is not. Do not think that I am
indifferent to the sufferings of the weakest ones because I give my time and
attention to the strong. Like the ministering angels, I go where I am most
needed. Only the strong ones can learn what I have to teach. The weak ones are
the charges of the Messiahs and their followers. But, nevertheless, between us
and the Messiahs there is brotherhood and there is mutual understanding. Each
works in his own field. The Messiahs help the many; we help the few. Their
reward in love is greater than ours; but we do not work for reward any more than
they do. Each follows the law of his being.
"To be loved by all men a teacher must be known to
all men, and we reveal ourselves only to a few chosen ones. Why do we not go the
way of the Messiahs? Because the balance must be maintained. For every great
worker in the sight of men there is another worker out of sight. Which kind of
teacher is of greater value? The question is out of order. The North and the
South are interdependent, and there are two poles to every magnet."