In a dream, I saw next to me someone who I recognized. That recognition was not the normal, matter of fact sort of recognition that one experiences where one simply connects the presence of a person to one's inward relation to them. Well, it was that, but several times over. In that moment of meta-recognition, I recalled with great intensity dozens of previous dreams in which that specific person had been present.
This person, who stood, personified, to my right, had specific, detailed features of course, but the recognition was very clearly not of the features but of the person, of that person's essence, being and personhood. It was a rather potent form of recognition.
If I recognize someone while awake, then say who it is I'm talking about, no one would even think to doubt that person's existence. If I have a dream "about" a particular person, the assumption will be that the person was not involved. If I have a dream about someone who I cannot name, the assumption will be that I dreamed this person up, that this person does not exist.
If I look at my relationship to someone who I do know in waking life, say, one of my children, I can reflect on that relationship and know with certainty that there is another person to whom this relationship connects. The relationship itself is something that does not require their presence to access. I can reflect on it at will. I can worry about the person, pray for them, wonder what they are doing, ponder something they said, or hash through the process of deciding on a birthday present.
The materialist perspective says that all of my experience of that relationship while the person is absent consists only of my reflection on, and interaction with, my own ideas. In other words, the other person is not there at all, and there is nothing I might do that would have any impact on the other person. Only when the person returns might the results of my reflection then be transmitted.
But the reality is that my end of the relationship is not at all constrained to when I am in someone's physical presence. Ideally each person's deepest awareness of the other, and physical presence would occur at the same time, but such symphonious experiences are rare, and no relationship is ever limited to a single moment of time. Real, actual, experienced relationships span time, thus they naturally transcend individual moments and therefore they transcend particular circumstances. To dissect a relationship and attempt either to constrain it to moments of proximity, or to separate those moments from moments of interiority and contemplation, is to miss the relationship itself.
There is certainly something particularly important about proximity, about those moments in a relationship where there is an exchange. But we have these exchanges, so to speak, "through earthen vessels". Each meeting is an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the last. In order to relate properly, each meeting must be separated from the next by reflection and prayer. When we fail to do so we relate not to the person but to our own sinful misconceptions.
Often it is when I am praying for someone or remembering them that I am most tuned in to their nature, more cognizant of their being. It is during deep reflection that I am most likely to truly recognize a person, whether they are physically present or not.
Some dream experiences, like shiny pebbles from a stream, lose their luster immediately after coming out of the water. The grand idea seems half baked. The brilliant solution seems infantile. The urgent problem seems trivial. And it is certainly often the case that I dream about a person and when I awake the dream seems not really to relate to them at all but is more a neurotic projection of something which only relates to them in a distant, symbolic way, if at all.
At a very primitive level, recognition involves the realization of which person one is seeing. One simply connects, as a robot might, the name and the face with the experiences. But recognition as we actually know it involves something much deeper than names and faces, and certainly deeper than vague impressions. Whether we see deeply into a person or not we recognize them has having depths. Loving our neighbor as ourself involves not just the recognition that we all have depths, but in the experience that we can only see deepness in others. The vividness and immediacy of being which we feel inwardly, in others looks like depth, and we must experience both in order to reach love. Recognition cannot be reduced to its particulars.
Given an intense experience of recognition, how can I deny the existence of a person I have recognized? How can I deny that person's otherness? It would be horrible to do so while awake: acknowledging another person's existence and otherness is fundamental to any kind of morality. Why would anyone attempt to err on the side of evil while asleep? To intentionally habituate oneself to treating people as one's own fantasy is equivalent to choosing to become a sociopath.
But it is just as bad to mistake one's fantasy of a person for who they really are.
What is one to do in a dream, then, sandwiched between these two moral chasms? If I discount the personhood I recognize, I'm falling into solipsism. If I imagine I know things I don't, I'm falling into delusion and prelest.
Lord help me.
If there is a person right in front of me, I can't deny they are there, I can't pretend to know anything about them that I do not actually know, but I also can't withdraw from the situation and fail to relate to them. I have to interact, to relate, to engage, within whatever limits are before me.
At no time does the denial of otherness become the right thing to do. Have I mixed my own sinful delusions into the dream? That isn't their fault. I have to behave as if the otherness and personhood are real, without requiring additional data. I am morally obliged to treat the people in my dreams well, for the same reasons I must treat people well in waking life, whether I "know them" or not.
As I emerged from this dream I ran through a list of who I wished this person was. An angel, a long lost friend or relative, a saint. I was, after all, filled with a sense of deep love for this person. But there was no concrete identity to which I could reliably associate with the very vivid feeling of personhood and presence that I felt.
What seemed the undeniable obligation on my part was to treat the person as Christ, as made in God's image, to love them as myself. As someone Jesus died for, the sort of person one is obliged to give a cup of cold water to, to clothe, to feed and visit in prison. The sort whom, if one leads astray, one would be better off with a millstone in deep water. Identity should not matter. Mathematically, so to speak, the equation simplifies down to only one knowable quantity: "person".