Sunday, November 25, 2012

It's the End of the World as We Know It

About three years ago, my son Daniel came home from Karate and informed us that the world was going to end in 2012.  He was certain about this because his karate instructor had told him and the rest of the kids in the class that that world would cease on December 21, 2012.  The Sun would be replaced by Venus and that would essentially destroy the earth.   Max and I looked at each other and tried to reassure my young son that the world was not going to end even in light of the fact that he had heard this from what you would assume was a responsible adult who we were paying good money to teach our son self-defense.  I quickly retreated to the internet to look up doomsday predictions to debunk what he had heard so that he would be able to sleep that night and not feel scared.   I looked up the end of the world prophecies and found that since the beginning of time, there have been over 200 doomsday scenarios and yet miraculously the world is still here admittedly with plenty of scrapes and bruises but none too worse for wear.   I told him not to worry to because no one could really predict the end of the world and that mankind was not far enough along to have God call us all up to heaven.  I had him read some of doomsday prophecies that started as early as the year 44 A.D. and mentioned for all the predictions of Hell, Fire and Damnation, we’re still here.   I put my little man to bed and let him know that he was safe and sound and that 12/21/2012 would come and go with little fanfare. 

I closed the door to his room and cursed his teacher for even bringing this up because even though the Mayan calendar supposedly ended on the winter solstice that year, it doesn’t mean the world would end.  It just meant that the new cycle will start over from the last long count which ends in 2012.  The teacher might be dealing with his own anxiety about that date, maybe he saw the movie 2012 about the end of the world and took it for the truth, but he didn’t need to inflict it on a bunch of little kids who only wanted to get pointers on doing solid side-kicks.  I could imagine the other parents dealing with the same issues with their kids and trying the best they could to reassure them that everything would be alright.  I also wondered how many phone calls Master Bryant would be getting the next day from Moms and Dads who had their 9 year olds crawling into bed with them in the middle of the night because they wanted to be close to their parents when the end came.   Needless to say for a variety of reasons, we eventually pulled Daniel out of that karate school. 

It reminded me of when I was a kid and there were shows like In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock from Star Trek) where I learned about the prophecies of Nostradamus which have not always been on the money in the divination department.  Many times people would fit the vagueness of his prophecies to things that had already happened or were so obvious that they were going to happen that they were retroactively clairvoyant.  For instance, he predicted the world would end in 1999 and of course it didn’t.  Than the prediction was revised to 9/11/2001 which would make you realize that a prediction that is two years too late about two towers rather than the end of the world is probably not worth the paper it’s written on - but then his supporters will still try to find a way to believe no matter how far-fetched it is.   To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, apparently a prophet is a prophet, no matter how small (or wrong).

I remember in 1988, the world was supposed to end according to a NASA mathematician and crackpot, Edgar Whisenant who had figured out the formula from the bible because God had hidden it there. The rapture was supposed to be between September 11-13 1988 and was supposed to happen sometime during Rosh Hashana.  Of course it didn’t and the prediction was continually revised through 2001 when the poor man died and was more or less forgotten.  That scenario sounds pretty familiar to May 21, 2011 when Harold Camping predicted that his believers would be taken to heaven.  His radio station empire got hundreds of millions from their listeners to support his work and hopefully buy a higher place in Heaven when the rapture actually happened.   When it didn’t happen, it was revised to October 11th of the same year and eventually he had a stroke which supposedly took away his ability to speak –  which is an ironic a bit of divine retribution because Mr. Camping thought he could outsmart God.

The scariest event that I could remember for the end of the world as we knew it was during the panic of Y2K or the year 2000.   For years, there were Y2K experts who worked on ways to avoid disaster and keep planes from falling out of the sky because the computers would be confused and would think it was the year 1900.   The reason people were so freaked was because in the 1960’s, the programmers abbreviated dates from 01/01/1964 to 01/01/64 to compress data and save massive amounts of limited memory.  So fast forward to 1999, there was literally world-wide panic when the new year would turn to the year 2000, the computers would think it was 1900 and stop working.  There were survivalists who had basements filled with bottled water, guns, ammo and canned tuna.   Everyone dreaded New Year’s 2000 because it might mean the end of life as we knew it.   We would have to live like the Amish without computers and cell phones.   In that scenario, the world would lose its technological advances and the grid would go dark.  There were TV shows starting in 1995 about how those brave nerdy programmers were trying to avoid a meltdown.  All of the year leading up to Y2K, that was all you heard and your sure didn’t want to party like it was 1999.  I remember sitting with Max on the couch at 11:45 p.m. on December 31st wondering if life as we knew it would change forever and like the show Revolution anarchy would rein except for the brutal and hot militia guys who would suck the fun out of everything.   But as midnight hit in capital city after capital city around the world nothing untoward seemed to be happening - it looked we had dodged a major technological bullet.  The next day was like any other day, but with far less tension and fear.  The world had not ended, your money had not disappeared into a technological void and the lights were still on.  I remember taking three year old Amber to the park and enjoying the sun on my face and the shade of the trees which ironically would have still have been the same even if the lights had gone out. 

So even after life went on, there were news reports on how disappointed some people were that the world was still as it always was.  There were not thousands of deaths due to airplanes dropping out of the sky.  There were not marauding hoards of unwashed masses looting groceries stores.  The good citizens of those metropolises did not have to be saved by the valiant members of the NRA who had guns which made them way more prepared then the liberals who would just use their ability to use a thoughtful quip to stop the ignorant in their tracks.  Probably the worst thing to come out of Y2K was those people who had invested thousands in K-rations to survive were now stuck with hundreds of pouches of chipped beef on toast which I would imagine would be enough to make anyone really depressed. 

I’ve always been surprised that time after time when those dooms day predictions did not come true that there were people who were extremely devastated that the world was still around to see another day.  Harold Camping’s believers had to literally do some real soul searching to figure out why they were so duped and why they followed a false prophet.  Why would you be cheering for the world to end and have billions of people die?  What is going on in your own sense of reality that the end of all you know is a good thing?  I was sitting across from Max at the kitchen table and asked him that very question.  He very wisely stated that as much as we like to think we know what tomorrow will bring – we just don’t.  We like to think we can control things and but that’s a façade.   So some people are really going to click into the idea that the end of the world is a certain day because it gives them a sense of control – in a weird way it makes them feel better.  I sat back and thought, “Damn, my man is smart!”
 I guess that’s why shows like The Walking Dead and the aforementioned Revolution are so popular.  It’s feeding into the collective dread of December 21st and asking us how we would survive if everything we ever knew what yanked from us in a very short period of time.  In The Walking Dead world, you have to fend off flesh eating zombies day after day along with trying to maintain a sense of order.  Life has a whole new meaning when there are the living and the “walkers” who wonder aimlessly looking for living flesh to eat.   When the world is full of the undead and you’re fighting like hell not to be one of them, the little things like the size of your bank account don’t seem that important.  Revolution asks us to contemplate what we would do to survive if the lights went out and there was no energy anywhere to keep your life as you knew it the way it was.  There would be no grocery stores, no ATMS - it would be Amish time!  Max and I experienced our own little revolution when Hurricane Andrew hit Miami in 1992 and we were without electricity for a week.   There was no phones, no internet, no newspapers and you could not drive around easily because of all of the debris in the streets.  It was hard to know what was going on.  You had radios but you had to conserve batteries so the information you got was limited.   I can definitely understand how the people who continue to experience the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy feel.   Like Homestead, Florida after Andrew, it will take months and years to come back after a disaster of that magnitude but people will because that’s what people do. Those disasters end up defining you way better than a zombie invasion ever could.  You come back stronger and all the stupid stuff you used to worry about just falls away because in the end it’s just not as important any more.   

Not having to worry about tomorrow might be comforting for some who are actually looking forward to the end of time as we know it, but when the sun still comes up tomorrow, then what?  Ten percent of the world’s population believes that December 21st is the end of the world.   Maybe they are out there running up their credit cards, having those awesome dinners at expensive restaurants as their last meals because 2013 will never come.  There will be the stays at hotels they can’t afford on credit cards they just got as a last fling before the end.  When day break hits on December 22nd, they will feel a little relived and then realize the massive cluster cuss they’ve gotten themselves into because the world did not end, life goes on and those new massive bills will still need to be paid.   

Probably the best end of the world prediction I’ve read is in the year 2034 from the “Church of Blair (a church with its tongue firmly in cheek – don’t ask which one) in which they predict that aliens who look like rainbow colored lemurs will land and wipe out mankind by bludgeoning us to death with giant burritos.  I’m actually pulling for that one because I think it’s so absurd, I would probably die laughing before they can get to me.   

There’s an old saying that “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”  I imagine if you want to really make him laugh hard, like so hard he’s falling off his chair and is slapping the floor wiping tears from his eyes, tell him you’ve figured out the mathematical formula for when the world ends because you’re just that smart.  The angels will be chortling too, and Jesus will be slapping his knee and saying, “That’s hilarious, dude, good one!”  As much as we’d like to think we have it figured out, we just don’t.  So sit back, relax and just let life take you where it’s supposed to because my guess it’s not going to be on the back of one the four horsemen of the Apocalypse this December.
One of the great paradoxes in life if that you have to live life fully like there’s no tomorrow but still need to have some type of plan in place for the future.  If today was your last day, would you have helped the people you were supposed to and told them how much you loved them?   December 21st could be figurative for changing the way you used to do things so that point in your life can literally come to an end.  It can be a time to make your life over to be what you want it to be so at the end you can be proud of what you’ve accomplished with no regrets.   So for those who have not been saving up for retirement because you were pretty sure your days were numbered, I have some good news and bad news.   The good news is that you’re going to be here awhile, and the bad news is that you’re going to be here awhile – what you decide to do with that blessed time is totally up to you.  Trust me, it’s not the end of the world.

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