I suppose this scene is like the old family kitchen that often attached to a family-run public house, where guests were often brought who were family friends rather than pub customers.
I was a stranger in a position suitable for a family friend. I sat detached from the family scene, as the proprietor divided himself (I suppose) between the public bar and the family kitchen, while the mother busied herself with tea-making and household chores, and the teenage children sat playing and arguing.
I had a useless bag of gears with me, and feeling I ought to justify being here some way, I presented this to the family as a present. They were delighted to receive a gift and their eyes sparkled.
I came back again and again, still disinterested and detached. I ate food presented to me by the mother out of politeness, because I was never hungry when I came here.
One night, the family was discussing films. They turned to me. What did I think? Had I seen such and such a film? I was disinterested in films, but, yes, I had seen this one. What did I think of it? It was OK, but not as good as another film on the same theme, what was it called? I could not remember. Was it such and such? Well, maybe ... yes, I believe that's it.
Another night they put on a film. It was dreary and uneventful; pointless, continual dialogue. The teenagers crept off. The mother busied herself at the stove. I got up to go. The proprietor confronted me. "You can't just creep off now. This film was your choice. At least show the good grace of pretending to watch what you demanded." I was perplexed and frustrated at the idea of sitting there in a stranger's kitchen monopolising, unwillingly, their television.
"What's with you, anyway? said the proprietor. You come in here to our kitchen and make yourself at home. You bring in a useless bag of gears and pretend it's a magnificent present, but it is entirely rubbish we had to dump in a skip. You eat our food; you monopolise our television, and you make no contribution at all."
With that I woke up.
The proprietor was my social conscience, telling me to get off the fence and get involved. Everybody has two over-riding instincts, the instinct for self-preservation and the instinct for preservation of the species. The first (epitomised by self-interest) is often at conflict with the second (epitomised by dedication to family, community and humankind). In the dream the second drive is confronting me as being tied up in my own self-interest and neglecting to help others in need.
The dream awakens two distinct memories of my past.
- The first recalls an incident of my childhood, where my father took me to visit an old person. First we went to the local shop and bought bread, butter, sugar, milk, tea and eggs. Then, armed with this bag of goods, we knocked on the old lady's door, and in we went to chat for a while and give her the goodies. She was an elegant old lady, living alone in an old house. When we left, my father told me that she was a "relic of old decency," and had nothing to live on, but would not lower herself to asking for assistance from the social services or charity. After we got home, my mother asked me where we had been, and I told her. She said "Your father ought to realise that charity begins at home." She was a mother of five children (at that time, and ultimately eight) who had sacrificed her independent life to her family. My father had neglected to pursue his own career-advancement in favour of sticking by his principles, and my mother had to struggle to maintain the family with very limited resources.
- The second was the example of Pól Ó Foighil (Paul Foyle) in the Connemara Gaeltacht. A blow-in teacher from Tipperary, he had galvanised the local community in South Connemara; built a college, founded a co-operative and a book-publishing company, personally provided micro-finance to up and coming entrepreneurs and launched joint ventures with some. I was a government inspector whose duties entailed visiting many houses. Here, I met people some of whom had never given a moment of time to helping the community. These were most critical of Pól. In pursuing all his good works, they said, he was "drawing water to his own mill." Amazingly, the people who most vigorously pursue the first instinct of self-preservation, are often unable to recognise the pre-eminence of the second instinct in those who give themselves selflessly to the community.