A Difficult Book

I.
The dream begins in a room with many young people—children, mostly. I seem to be one of the older ones there, although my age in the dream isn’t clear. It’s a location from the past—as the age of the people there suggests, one that’s quite far back for me.

I‘m reading a book of fairy tales. They’re in German, a black-letter font set in colored borders. At the same time, some others nearby are talking, and one of them asks me to see the book. I had been telling her about a certain story I had been reading. I want to show it to her now, but as I flip through the book, I can’t seem to find it. She, too, looks through the book. She finds what looks like the same story in English, in a more modern format—but I’m sure that hadn’t been there before, that what I had read had been different.

Later, I look through the book again, on my own this time, but no matter how much I look, I can’t seem to find the story. There is another I had been reading, but not the one I’m looking for. Then it occurs to me to look at the book’s cover. There, I see its title: Trust. That explains it, then. It all makes sense. That’s why I’ve been having so much trouble with this book.

Everything is taking on a dream-like feeling. I now seem to be the protagonist of the story- the one I’ve been looking for- taking a ferry over a river that runs through a village. There’s something tantalizingly familiar about this place, especially the way the sunlight sparkles on the dark, swiftly flowing water. But I just can’t place it.

And now, across the river, I am climbing up a muddy slope. But as I climb, the dream-like feeling begins to resolve itself into a realization: this is a dream. I am dreaming.

I am now in a white-walled, open-air corridor that I recognize as a museum. It’s like a courtyard, walled in, but with no ceiling. I can see trees rising up over the wall of the room ahead of me, and further on, partway up the side of a building, a balcony with a table and chairs. Plenty of open space. There is a room on my left with a sign outside the door labeled PHIL 773. I walk past it, since the room looks rather bare and boring, but then decide to go in after all.

Inside are a chair and a TV, turned on, in one corner, some more chairs over to my left. That seems to be all. But then someone calls out to me. There’s a man sitting in one of the chairs with its back to the doorway. He is an older man, with white hair. I don’t recognize him, but given the sign outside the room, I wonder whether he’s a philosopher, someone whose work I’ve read. I ask him what his name is. “Professor Ziegler,” he tells me. I haven’t heard of him either, then—but I did once know someone by that name. Perhaps he’s a relative of hers?

But then, suddenly, I wake up.

(October, 2015)

II.

Nowadays, it isn’t at all strange for my first thought after awakening to be a question. Often, it is a question starting with “who”. Who was Eucleides? Who was Yuan Xi? Who was King George I, and was he one of the mad ones?

And sometimes, “who” is the wrong question. Eucleides turned out to be significant not because of anyone who had the name, but because it meant “son of Euclid”. But it’s always a good question to ask for names if you know you’re dreaming. It tells you something about the person you’re speaking with, as the sign outside a room tells you what to expect inside—and as the title of a book tells you about its contents.

A book of fairy tales, is it? Are you going to give the odd-looking stranger your hospitality? Believe the person who claims to be someone you know they couldn’t be? Take the apple? It’s rarely an easy answer, but so many times it does seem to be “yes”.

And then there are those names that you can’t trace—names that belong to a forgotten past, perhaps, or to the future. But you just don’t know—and so that’s where the trust comes in.

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