Happy New Year!
It’s 2:49 a.m., January 1, 2016. I had a few glasses of wine some hours ago, working on a book, my little cat for company, and went to bed early. I did not sleep very long until I awoke, and lying in bed began check Facebook to see what my circle was posting. I saw all the usual things: “Happy New Year! Happy 2016!” I thought about this greeting. I thought about people marking the calendar, considering new things, hoping for good events to come. Most people issue the habitual and expected greeting each incoming year, with a knee-jerk conditioning and a party-spirit. There are some who say it and mean it.
It is now 2016, a new year beginning. We say that, yet the truth is there is no new year at all. Calendar markings are arbitrary things we construct to mark off time past, present, and future. The truth is, we are living in a continuum of time. This little essay is written in love to all who read it. This is my little New Year’s reflection for you.
The PAST is Alive in Our New Year
The phrase “Happy New Year!” suggests good wishes, good hopes, good intentions to those to whom we say it. Yet even we who say it have a Past that we bring with us into the New Year. The Past lives in those to whom we send our greeting. The Past lives within us who send out the greeting.
The Living Past That Is Good Within All of Us. We are all different, you and me, and those we know. Yet we are all the same in this, if we only would remember it. Every single one of us come into this New Year with past experiences of love and goodness.
For some of us, these experiences were many, rich, and full. For others of us, these experiences were few, too few, episodic, yet treasured. Whether we have a large capacity expanded from the past, or a delicate small capacity which we hope and pray will be expanded, you and I are like vessels of Love and Goodness, little bubbling springs of Love and Goodness.
You are a vessel of Love and Goodness. I truly wish parents realized how their love shapes the neural networks of their children, the formation of the brain’s capacity to love and produce goodness in the world. Parental love kneads the new clay of the baby’s brain, and molds and impresses in it future power to love and be and do good. Yet we are now what we are–though you must not despair, if you think back and imagine “I have my parents’ imprint, with too little love and goodness. I am beyond change.”
Yes, like the clay shaped on a potter’s wheel, elements of Past Love and Goodness have been spun into the walls of our psyches. Yes, there are pollutants, imperfections, gaps within us. Yes, though sometimes we have thought proudly of our achievements, we really are just little vessels, fragile, so breakable if struck in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Our lives have imperfections in our shaping. Our lives have been broken and mended. Some of us still have breaks in us. Some breaks are unseen, and we believe no one can perceive them, nor mend them so long we have lived with them. Yet here we are, alive in this New Year. Even though we are fragile, and though life sometimes leeches out of the cracks remaining in us, we still have Love and Goodness in us.
I say to you, yes, you do have love and goodness within you, regardless of what you have done with the Love and Goodness given and shaped in you by your parents, regardless of how deficient they were in not having given what you really needed.
Do you remember a time when you were very thirsty, how you reveled in a drink of water? Do not underestimate your value as a vessel of Love and Goodness. You may be small and delicate, fearful of being shattered. Yet every drop of Love and Goodness you pour out for others who are thirsty is better than gold to them. Some we live with, some we know, some we meet, are very thirsty for Love and Goodness. Be not selfish.
You answer, “John, I only have a drop of two of Love and Goodness within me. I fear that, if I pour these few drops out, I will be empty. I will implode. I fear Love and Goodness will not come to replace these traces I protect within me.” I hear that. I know what this feels like. I am like you. But I have more to say, because I have learned this feeling is false. Wait for what more I have to say to you for this New Year.
You are a small, bubbling spring of Love and Goodness. Have you ever seen a natural spring? On a farm where I grew up, we had one. It flowed out from the foot of a hill. I can see it now. We never dug or built around it. It was almost imperceptible. You would not notice it at all, except for the green area of grass around it, and the steady little trickle of water that ran maybe fifty feet to a little creek in front of it.
But as a boy, I remember walking up to this green-ring, getting down on my knees, and putting my face down close to that little pool of emerging water. In the center, it was clear, and you could see the pressure of the flow, swelling up from deep inside. Right there in the center, the water was clear as could be. About six to eight inches away, the water became a little muddy from contact with the earth next to it, then the small little stream drifted behind in a little line of water that poured into the creek.
I think life experiences are like contact of the outer earth with the deep inner flow of our inner being. Inside, when we are mentally and emotionally and spiritually healthy, we have pure intentions. Yet we experience pollutants (and there are so many I will not address these). And our life-influence flows on into the stream of people we know. Are you not grateful for the persons you meet who somehow have preserved their capacity to be purer streams of life and love and goodness? They purify you and me. They call us to better things. How grateful we are to them. Unite your stream of Love and Goodness with them. They need you. You need them. The world needs us.
Vessels and Springs of Love and Goodness. You and I exist, and we have past elements of Love and Goodness kneaded into what made us who we are. We still have the flow of Love and Goodness welling up inside us, wanting to get out.
Claim and live in the substance of Love and Goodness you have. Refuse to allow gaps, injuries, and imperfections to deny you the joy of being a Vessel of Love and Goodness. Whatever the Past was, you still are on the potter’s wheel. Add to Love and Goodness while the wheel is spinning, before the wheel stops, and you are done. You still have deep inner flowing of Love and Goodness. Let it flow out in your speaking and behaving with others, even the Polluters. They need Love and Goodness from you, though it may confuse them, so disordered they are.
This is a New Year, though the continuum of the Past penetrates into our Present and Future. Be a vessel of Love and Goodness. There are parts of the real you which want to live this way.
The Living Past That is Bad Within Us. We say, “Happy New Year!,” and maybe we mean it, and maybe we toss this out like cheap confetti to be swept away a few hours later. Yet the truth is that, even for those of us with the best intentions, and the most genuine good will, the Living Past also gave us experiences of Hate and Harm. The vessels we are contain traces, and sometimes gashes, gaping holes, so we do not just “leak.” Everything loving and good seems to drain out of us, and we cry over our condition.
I had a wonderful childhood and youth, raised by two truly loving and moral and loyal parents, who were a real team of love for their three boys. Yet in 1992, one night I was with my brother in Washington DC, enjoying a gourmet meal he prepared in love; then two nights later, I was emotionally blasted apart in grief. I had to go to the DC morgue to identify his dead body. I had to look at black-and-white pictures of blood running from his mouth and ears, and his beautiful face drained of life. My vessel was broken, and even the tender love of my four children, experienced each day, could not repair me, for some years.
I think about you, my reader male or female. Some of you have been shattered, some even in childhood, others as teens, and still others by things in the year past. I said perhaps thirty days or so after my brother’s murder, by a random robber who stabbed him to death for his billfold, “I have now joined the human race, the Race of Those with Murdered Family Members.” Some of you, my friends and strangers, joined long ago or recently, the Race of the Hated and Harmed. I have healed, but some of you are not healed. And whether we are healed or not, we still are members of our Living Past, and we bring that Living Past into the New Year.
Melting and Recasting
Today is January 1, 2016. We all have some chains of the Living Past within us. Some are broken, yet still present, scattered in our memory-chest. Their fragments no longer bind us, yet if we go back, and we pick them up, handle them, hold them close to our eyes, they still hurt us. Or we can kick them back into the corner. We can make a container for them, put them in it, and put a lock on it.
Or we can melt them down, and put them into new forms of Love and Goodness. Those forms never could exist, apart from the materials of Hate and Harm. Yet we still have the power to destroy the original forms, and their terror, and recast the materials against their original nature.
In the Bible’s Book of Genesis, chapter 50, verse 20, a brother who years before had been betrayed by his older brothers–who had sold him into slavery to get rid of him, then lied to their father he had been killed by a wild animal–told them, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” Joseph had had literal chains on him. He had in his memory memories of Hate and Harm, piles of chains in his mind, done to him by his own flesh and blood.
Yet when he might have used his power–for God had placed him in high power in Egypt–to pick up the chains of Hate and Harm in his mind, and re-use them on his terrified brothers, who realized who he was, Joseph melted them all down, and recast them in new forms of Forgiveness, Mercy, Love Extended, Love Alive, poured out of his broken-yet-repaired vessel, upon his brothers.
This is a New Year. I say to you, my precious reader, there is a Living Past in you of Hate and Harm, somewhere. Yet you yourself have the power–yes, you do–not to expel or eject the memories, but to take their material and melt it down with Love and Goodness, and thwart the original intent of the haters and harmers.
Your Age and Condition Do Not Matter
Every week on Wednesday, at 10 a.m., I go to a nursing home, take out my trumpet and music, and play and sing Christian hymns, carefully selected for their simplicity, sonority, and messages of love, usually known by these senior people, some whose minds hardly can absorb what is happening.
I talk to them about the Living Past, about old hates and harms, about old chains, and about living in the present in Love and Goodness. I do not know how much I get through to them. Yet I see heads nod, “yes.” And when I mention that some of us, we ourselves, have done deeds of hate and harm, and that we ourselves put chains on others–some who are dead, to whom we cannot say, “I am sorry”–I see heads nod, “yes.”
You and I reader have a Living Past with some memories of hate and harm done to us, and some memories of hate and harm we have done. Yet still, we must make the decision today: “Shall I melt down the old material into something loving and good today?” There are prisoners in jails and prisons who cannot escape, who must serve their term, yet they choose to be love and goodness where they are now. I know this to be true, for I once served in a prison and came to know some people like that.
Happy New Year!
It is now 5:31 a.m., January 1, 2016. I have been sitting here, thinking of you, and writing from my head and heart, for you, and for me. Later today, people who follow the calendar will be saying, “Happy New Year!” and doing whatever they will do.
The Living Past impinges upon our Living Present, which by the end of today will be another part of our living past. Right now, this very minute, is your Living Present. Right now, you are thinking thoughts. You have things to do (and wish I would end this interminable reflection)! All I can say to you is this.
Realize you are a vessel of Love and Goodness, no matter what has happened to you in the past. Look back and drink from any and every memory of love and goodness you ever had. Then clear out the trash, pull out the overgrowth, and let your loving and good past bubble up and out of you in your speech and behaviors. Your family, your friends, everyone you meet are so thirsty and parched, needing the love and goodness only you can give in the recast forms of all your experiences.
You may say to me, “John, but I am thirsty and parched. And I’ve been this way for years. I cannot give what I do not have.” I close with one final story from my life, which I know has potential power for you, and your New Year.
Fragmentation and Restoration
In the 1990s on up to 2007, I experienced a series of harmful experiences–betrayal, my murdered brother, and a fraud that I fought in the defense of an innocent group of people. All the while I sought to be a vessel of Love and Goodness. Yet I am only a man. Collectively these began to fragment the strong force of Love and Goodness given to me in my childhood. Eventually, I was incapacitated–far more than was visible to my loved ones–and I finally turned from commitment as a vessel of Love and Goodness to surrender to hate, anger, disillusionment, and bitterness.
I gave up. Years passed. I still had Love and Goodness in me. I still produced many things that were loving and good, some noteworthy, in government and academic employment. I still did many things in ethics and conflict resolution, attempting to make things better in our crazy world. Yet within me was a sense of brokenness and despair that gave me no real sense of hope that anything I did had any real meaning.
Then one day, I pulled into my driveway. I had been thinking, driving along, about my life. I remembered from my Living Past a time when I was happy, loving, and doing good in God’s world. So when I turned off the engine, I sat there, thinking about my Living Past, and the Living Present so shattered. I asked God, “Can you do anything with ashes? Can you take a life burned down, and do something good with it?!” I got out of my car, and with tears streaming down my cheeks, and moaning audibly from the pain, I ascended the steps of my deck to enter my home. Yet my prayer was earnest, and one of despair. The Vessel of Love and Goodness was broken, and the wheel nearly stopped.
That was the day–when I looked at the paradox of a Living Past both loving and hateful, good and evil–when I asked for divine help, to do what I could not do on my own. (I know psychology and psychiatry, more than you may think, so I anticipate the counter-claim, “Oh, yes you could…yes you did”). I had to cooperate with God. I had to let God do some melting of the chains. God let me pour the material into John Willis’s unique forms. This is one of them, for you.
I can tell you that today, January 1, 2016, I am happier now than in decades. I honestly and simply cannot tell you how excited I am to be alive. This is not a psychological rebound-effect. This condition has been growing and expanding for several years. I am about to produce a book which I now can see never could have been written, apart from experiences of harm, then healing, and then transcendence.
This essay is a “Happy New Year!” gift for you. By now perhaps you can tell this essay actually is a narrative-prayer for you, that you will reflect on these things, and that you will embrace a new life of Love and Goodness, or an expansion of Love and Goodness already at work within you, forever, while you have life within you.