For this prompt, I played with the recent news about the Mayan calendar and the end of the world (scheduled for 12/21/2012, as you might already know). I began by saying, “Well, I have bad news. The world is coming to an end soon.” Then I asked everyone to write down these phrases:
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
Everything ends eventually.
We’re all going to heaven, so get ready.
The Rapture, it seems, has been delayed again. Believing is so challenging, isn’t it? And all of these false starts make a mockery of the Apocalypse. I’m being cheeky, but the truth is, I know this fear all too well. The Apocalypse has felt like a real possibility for most of my life.
As far as God is concerned, when I was a child, I wondered at the illustrations on the last pages of our family bible. There I found that great horned creature with three heads (or was it six?), the blackening sky, the sinners burning up while the believers ascended into heaven. It was something to aspire to: not dying, but ascending. I loved the idea, and the Apocalypse promised that. I feared it too, but didn’t necessarily believe it would happen in my lifetime. Still, it was lurking around in my psyche for years.
By the time I was in high school, the Cold War was in full swing, nuclear arms were being stockpiled, and we used to have air raid drills, in which we were instructed to take cover beneath thin, formica-topped, pressed-wood desks—clearly thorough protection from nuclear bombs and radiation.
Let’s just say I didn’t feel safe. My life at home was unraveling too; if you’ve read my writing you know that sad story: Mama’s early-onset dementia, adult diapers, and a family enmeshed because of an ever-changing disease. In my limited life away from the cognitive tangle, I sought to escape hopelessness. But my generation (“X” we are called, not even worthy of a name, it seems) was prone to dress in black, listen to hard rock, smoke too much, and watch too much TV. We felt doomed, so we often just said, “Fuck it.”
HBO was brand new back then, and I remember being engrossed in a special about Nostradamus, that 16th Century doctor-turned-prophet whose encoded visions of the future were being interpreted at that time. His “black and white birds” flying toward one another were interpreted as missiles, and the “great evil rising” in the Middle East provoked many to believe he had predicted WWIII. Prophecies of the end; I have lived with this fear all my life. Y2K brought it up again, and so did 9/11, but neither delivered. And now I’m listening to the news, hearing about Syria and Israel and chemical weapons and the possibility of WWIII. Here comes the Apocalypse again.
But here’s a new thought: it isn’t going to happen. How’s that for a possibility? It isn’t going to happen. Which means, of course, not only is peace still possible, but that I might be able to stop worrying about it and get on with living, living this life that includes fear and safety, joy and suffering, never-ending (until I kick the bucket, and even then, who knows?). It also means that there’s no getting out of repaying my enormous student loan.
Survival, it turns out, is bittersweet.