Chapter 8 Johan: Regrets and Lessons
“What can I do to get some peace!”
Yvonne threw up her hands in mock dismay as thirteen children swarmed over from their schoolhouse. It was time for them to get outside and they desperately wanted to play ‘stuck in the mud’ with Yvonne. The children were laughing with glee and Yvonne couldn’t help but grin as they started to organise themselves into a game.
Yvonne remembered her own childhood, just before the Great Suffering. She and other children her age had learned this same game from a kindly older lady, called Jean. She was reluctant to think about how Jean had been killed, when the looting started, along with many others in her town. Yvonne wondered when Jean would be raised and where she’d be placed. A boy was wriggling between her knees and Yvonne snapped out of her memories.
“Look at them playing,” said Johan as he leaned on his legget. Yan stopped arranging the straw thatching bundles and looked down onto the playground.
“They will never know war, or hunger, or abuse. Doesn’t that make you wonder?”
“But they will need to learn to love one another,” replied Yan. “This can only be learned through relationship and all that this brings.”
Johan turned to Yan, wiping sweat from his brow.
“Why did we have to suffer so much before coming here? I don’t understand why God couldn’t just make it all like this in the first place?”
“The Previous Ages were essential to bring all of us into existence. It was a time of multiplication for the species of the earth. The desires we had were designed to ensure the population increased. But these desires, to procreate and protect, they were often twisted and abused. Those twisted desires caused most of the pain and suffering you and others experienced. Now that God has brought that time to an end, the desires in our resurrected bodies are of a different nature. We do not need the desires to procreate or protect like we once did.”
“So, no sex?” Johan blushed.
“Not on the New Earth, the chemicals at work in our resurrected bodies do not drive us toward sex anymore.”
“I want to tell you something,” said Johan quietly, glancing around to check nobody was within earshot.
“When I was a soldier. I… I went into the city...”
“My comrades and…, well… we went to a… a house of… ill-repute.” Johan eyes were fixed on the ground.
“There were girls there. And I had never… you know... I went along with it. We all did. I paid the girl and…. I felt sick after. Not because of her, but because it felt so cheap and meaningless. I think about her sometimes.”
“Thank you for telling me this. The reaction you had – how it made you feel. That shows you were open to your conscience. Did you learn anything else?”
Johan let the legget fall to the ground and slumped down heavily on a straw bundle.
“My desire was to be with someone. I guess I wanted human touch? One that wasn’t violent. I wanted a woman’s touch. But she touched me because I paid her to. In the moment it felt ok, but after; I felt I had degraded what human touch really means.”
Johan took a deep breath and continued.
“If we had been in love, it would’ve been so different. Her touch would’ve been with real feelings for me. And my being with her would’ve been from a healthy place, where it had value?”
“I understand,” said Yan quietly.
“I was just another soldier in a long line of soldiers. How different it would’ve been if I had been her only love.”
“This is a hard thing to recognise,” Yan remarked. “You have seen clearly how your desire was caught in an act that was not as healthy as it could’ve been.”
“Yes, and I am sorry for it,” said Johan solemnly, at last looking back into Yan’s face.
“Listen, Johan. This is part of the process. Our experiences help us learn and recognise what is good. When we see clearly, we can recognise regrets and can let them go. We are all loved, and nothing we did is held against us. God keeps no records of such things!”
“But when he sees me, does he not see these things I’ve done?”
“He does not bring them to mind, but he is aware of the influence they have on your heart. He understands how they have affected you, but our intrinsic value is not in what we did or didn’t do.”
“God’s love is so special that we have a word for it, Agape – it’s so big it’s hard to describe. This divine love heals, restores, reconciles, redeems all who embrace it. When we see that Agape Love holds us, we change. Sometimes quickly, more often slowly. It depends how open our heart is.”
Yan put an arm around Johan’s shoulder as these words were digested.
Snack time meant a generous mix of fruit and nuts and Eric sidled up to Yvonne to enjoy his portion.
“Yvonne?” asked Eric, squinting up at her.
“Gerty’s big brother, Johan. He’s nice, but… he seems sad sometimes. He will play with Gerty a little, but will never join in the games with us?”
Yvonne smiled and smoothed her hand over Eric’s hair.
“You know what?” she said. “Some of the grown-ups have seen some awful things in the Previous Age. Do you remember, we learned about that in school?”
“That we were all born in the Previous Age, and… and that the grown-ups have had many things happen to them?”
“Most of you kids won’t remember much about the Previous Age, because you came here so young. But the grown-ups frequently think about what happened and often struggle to understand it.”
“He seems jealous of you, Yvonne.”
“That’s a perceptive thought. What makes you say that?”
“I sometimes see him watching you when you play with us. When you laugh with us, I see his face. He stares at you looking a little cross.”
“So why do you think he might be jealous, Eric?”
Eric took another handful of nuts and berries, chewing them slowly in thought. Before finishing his mouthful, he looked back up at Yvonne.
“He wants to laugh like you do.”
“Ok, so why do you think he doesn’t?”
Eric looked puzzled and put his bowl down. “I think he is still sad about what he saw before.”
“Why do you think that might stop him having fun with us now?”
“Well, maybe he is still thinking that the past is more powerful than where we are now?”
Yvonne was startled by the simple but profound insight that Eric just gave. Looking up she could see Johan and Yan thatching the roof of one of the houses nestled on the hillside.
“So, Eric, what do you think would help Johan?”
“If he could believe that all will be ok, that the hurt of the Previous Age would go away.”
“Will everything be ok here?”
“Well, Jesus and all his friends, like you, are helping everyone find the love inside that can make life better for everyone.”
Yvonne was delighted with how much little Eric understood. Eric had died in infancy on a cotton plantation in the late 19th Century, his parents were slaves.
“What do you remember about your time in the Previous Age?” asked Yvonne.
Eric furrowed his brow.
“Not very much. Men on horses, I was very scared of them because they beat us. Singing together with my family. Mumma and Papa swinging me with their hands.”
“Your Mumma and Papa are here aren’t they?”
“Yes! Jesus resurrected them and we are all here together.”
Eric stood up and smiled at Yvonne.
“Can I go now?” he asked sweetly.
“Of course you can, thank you for the good chat!” said Yvonne.
Eric skipped over to Gerty and sat down to join in comparing the animals they’d seen that day.
“Not like that,” called Johan with furrowed brow. “Like this.” He dug deep into the stack of straw and twisted the fork, pulling out an impressive weave of golden straw.
Eric pushed in his fork and lifted out a tuft which promptly fell apart and floated off in the breeze.
“No! You must twist the fork! Twist the fork!” Johan was now yelling. “All this spare straw needs sorting out.”
Eric waited for him to attack the stack of straw again before turning to Gerty.
“Why is he so bossy? Is he always like this?”
Gerty checked her brother wasn’t watching and then nodded vigorously. “He is often shouty at home as well.”
Johan turned back to the two children. “Try again, then!” he ordered.
Eric dug in his fork, twisted it and successfully hoisted a golden clump of straw into the air.
“Ok,” said Johan, “Now spread it like I did.”
Doing his best to lower his straw to the ground, Eric put the fork into a horizontal position while Gerty instinctively helped him by removing the straw with her hands.
“No! Gerty! Leave him be! How will Eric learn if you help him?”
Gerty sighed and stepped back. Eric performed the spreading as requested and looked back at Johan, searching for approval.
“Ok,” said Johan. “And again.”
Walking back to the village, Eric was still trying to understand.
“So, what makes him so angry and shouty?”
Gerty thought for a minute. “I think it’s all because he was in the army. War broke out when he was only fifteen and he wanted to be like the other boys in our village and go to war. The training they gave him was very tough, but it taught him how to fight. I think he thinks that all teaching should be like the teaching he received in the army.”
“We had angry men like him where I grew up. They shouted at us from horses and had whips. I hated them.”
“Do you hate Johan,” asked Gerty.
“No, I don’t hate him. I have seen him be so nice to people. I think it’s just when he is doing things for the village, he feels he needs to shout and be bossy. I like him when he isn’t shouting!”
“Ok, I won’t say you said anything, but I will try and talk to him later.”
Eric was touched by Gerty’s courage to confront her big brother.
“How do you think Eric did today?” asked Gerty over the table.
Johan looked up from his plate, knife and fork in hand.
“He did fine, he is a hard worker.”
“I think he is too, but…” Gerty paused. “It was his first time today and you were really bossy with him!”
Johan looked startled. “Oh, was I?” He sat back in his chair, recalling the events of the afternoon.
“You are such a kind brother. You know I think you are great!” Gerty reassured Johan. “But Eric felt a little sad about how you were angry with him.”
Johan sat forward again.
“I guess I never thought about it. I am glad you’ve said something, I would hate for Eric to be discouraged.”
Gerty was pleased that Johan was listening.
“I know I want everyone to do a good job. I think maybe I shout at him because that’s how I learned from my drill sergeant in the army.”
“I did think the same,” said Gerty. “I remember watching you on parade in the town square one time. I was scared of the man shouting at you all!”
Johan smiled but with sadness in his eyes.
“He was shouting at us so we learned to stay alive as best we could. He was shouting so we could be better soldiers.”
“But everyone is safe here, aren’t they?” replied Gerty. “There’s no need to be worried about Eric getting it right. We have time to learn.”
“I guess you’re right. Still, we need to have focus and discipline.”
Gerty thought about what her brother had said before deciding that she didn’t agree with him.
As the weeks went past, Eric steadily improved in his thatching skills, joining Johan and several other men and women roofing new structures around the village.
One lunchtime Eric found himself sitting with Gerty and Johan enjoying some of the fresh bread made at the bakery that morning.
“You’re spilling crumbs everywhere!” Johan remarked impatiently to Eric as he tucked into his currant bun.
Eric glanced up at Johan, rather embarrassed, though he had come to expect such a manner from Johan. Summoning up some courage, Eric brushed the crumbs from his shirt and finished his mouthful.
“But Johan? We are outside?”
Johan was not used to Eric talking back to him. Aware that he didn’t want to look either foolish for saying something, or needlessly harsh by doubling down, Johan cleared his throat, got up and walked away.
“He’s always telling me off!” said Eric indignantly.
“I know,” acknowledged Gerty.
“I did try to speak to him about it, but he doesn’t seem to see that he is harder on you than on anyone else.”
The two friends were interrupted by the sound of a voice calling over the field.
“Yooohooo,” called Yvonne.
Eric and Gerty waved back.
“Pa!” called Eric as he recognised Yvonne was walking with his dad.
“Come and see our roof?” Eric requested, as he jumped to his feet.
“Oh, it’s spectacular!” marvelled Ebo, Eric’s Dad. “Great job my boy, and well done Gerty. Did you do this one yourselves?”
“Johan did help a little,” said Eric, just as Johan rounded the corner of the building having heard voices.
“Johan, I see you are teaching these young ones very well,” encouraged Ebo with a broad smile.
Johan looked back at him blankly, rather uncomfortable at being praised.
Yvonne noticed his posture and interjected.
“You are doing a great job, all of you,” she said quickly, aiming to spare Johan’s blushes.
“What are you doing today?” Johan asked, looking only at Yvonne.
“We are looking at some fields to the west. They are ready for more crops to be planted, and we have received a shipment of seeds from Zion. Ebo is going to head up the cultivation of the crops.”
“You will be in charge, Pa?” asked Eric, with pride in his voice.
“I guess I will be,” said Ebo. “But it’s a team effort, always a team effort.”
“Yes,” added Johan dismissively. “Always a team effort.”
Ebo was slightly put-out by Johan’s comment.
“What is with him?” asked Ebo as he and Yvonne continued back to the village hall.
A familiar and warm feeling came over her, Yvonne knew it was Rauch. A picture became clear in Yvonne’s mind. She could see Johan as a boy, wearing the uniform of a Nazi soldier. A children’s book opened before him; grotesquely racist illustrations glared out of the pages. In that moment Yvonne was able to see that Johan’s cultural background had shaped him and he was still recovering from how he was influenced from a young and impressionable age.
Ebo also felt that he knew the answer to his question but didn’t want to voice his pondering yet for fear of creating unhealthy gossip in the village. Part of him seethed with anger for having to face up to being in a community with people that may hold prejudices.
Yvonne intuited Ebo’s feelings. “You know, Ebo, some folk still have so much to work through.”
“Yeah, what about you, Yvonne? What do you have to work through?”
Yvonne was a little surprised by Ebo’s sarcastic tone. “I would love to tell you, Ebo, but I do not want to come to you with defensive answers.”
Ebo was stopped short by the honesty of Yvonne’s response. He shook his head and laughed a hollow laugh.
“Ha, my gosh. I am sorry.”
He shook his head again, taking in the reality of what had just come out of him. “Listen, I am sorry. I am not needing you to answer this, but I have to tell you, I am feeling angry.”
“I know,” soothed Yvonne. “I hear you.”
The two sat and talked. Ebo was able to unpack some of his frustrations and Yvonne listened intently. When the conversation reached a natural plateau, Yvonne reached down and took Ebo’s hands.
“Come, let’s go and see the seed delivery.”
Johan woke with the birdsong as he did every morning. His village, surrounded by pine forest, was shrouded in a delicate pink mist. Though he had now been living there for years, Johan was still so struck by the peace that reigned in the atmosphere every day. Johan enjoyed his job, which had evolved from thatching into general building maintenance.
Johan was a morning person. When he awoke, he loved to get out of bed and do 100 press-ups to keep his body in top condition. This morning, after his exercise, he went downstairs to make a coffee for himself and his younger sister, Gerty. This was part of his normal routine, but today was a special day. It was 3 years to the day since they had been reunited.
Gerty had the benefit of growing up mostly on the New Earth. She was now ten years old, counting from her birth in the Previous Age and including her years after resurrection. She had a wisdom about her that constantly surprised Johan. His sister had never had to deal with the complications of childhood like those that had grown to be adults in the Previous Age.
Stirring, she smiled sweetly to see a special cake that Johan had made her.
“It’s our 3-year rebirthday!” exclaimed Johan, excited to see her enjoy the cake.
Gerty laughed. “It doesn’t feel very long at all!” she said.
“It’s true. Time here is so different,” Johan responded.
“What are you doing today?” asked Gerty, with a mouth full of cake.
“We are adding another layer of varnish to the wheel at the mill,” said Johan. “Keeps it turning smoothly. How about you?”
“We are continuing our experiments with crossbreeding tomato plants at school. Eric had some new ideas he wants to try with how much infused water we give them.”
“Oh yeah?” said Johan rather blankly.
Gerty rolled her eyes.
“You always do that!”
“You go funny when I mention Eric. Why can you not accept that he is one of my best friends?”
Johan was disappointed that Gerty thought this way but couldn’t deny that he still had feelings he couldn’t place around Eric and his family.
“Ok. It’s our day today and I want to show you that I’m listening. I’ll have a good think on what it is with me and Eric. I don’t dislike him, please believe me?”
There was a polite knock at the door. Johan swung it open and there stood Yan with a back-pack full of brushes.
“Painting day!” said Yan, energetically.
“Yes!” said Johan. “Let’s go.”
Gerty came to the door and waved them off on their way to the river. The village was beginning to bustle into life with people making their way to their jobs. The sound of friendly chatter could be heard as Johan and Yan made their way down through the narrow streets hedged in with tall wooden buildings. Getting anywhere always took more time than necessary, frequent conversations delaying them.
“Hello, you two,” said a familiar voice to their right.
Yvonne was coming down a steep path with a wheelbarrow full of fresh compost. Yvonne had spent several hours in deep meditation regarding Johan’s past. She was excited to see him.
“Hey, Johan, let’s get some lunch sometime this week?”
Johan was glad to be asked. He felt a great affection for Yvonne.
“Yes! Ok! I’d like that very much. Tomorrow?”
“Sounds good,” beamed Yvonne. “I’ll come and find you at the mill at midday?”
“Ok, that… I…” Johan was a little nervous and taken by surprise; he found it hard to finish his sentence.
“Alright then! See you two soon!” chirped Yvonne as she moved off in the direction of the plant nursery.
Yan gently slapped Johan’s back. “You ok?” he chuckled.
“Yes, I just… I haven’t been asked to spend any time with her before.”
“Ah, she’s great,” reflected Yan.
After some minutes the two men were happily coating the wheel at the watermill with fresh varnish made from tree sap. Some of the bakery team were fetching freshly ground flour from the mill itself and conversation had already started to catch on between the various working parties.
Further up the river a group were partly damming the flow of the water to create a swift current to drive the wheel at the mill faster than before. The sound of happy people singing together drifted back downstream. The day was warm, but a gentle breeze kept the air fresh. The work was hard, but nobody minded as they had strong bodies that rarely ached, and no insects irritated the workers. The New Earth had all kinds of animal life, but insects kept themselves to themselves, having their habitats left undisturbed by human activity.