End of the World Visions

by journojames on April 8, 2012

Originally published Feb. 2, 2012

I can’t stop thinking about the end of the world.

The End, Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The thought pops into my head while I’m sipping my morning coffee. Sometimes I’ll imagine “the end” while I’m on a jog. It even distracted me a few weeks ago at church.

My fiancé and I had just finished a meeting with Father Eric, our priest who was counseling us on our summer wedding plans. We were talking about how beautiful the ceremony was going to be, but all I could envision was Los Angeles crumbling into the sea.

The world will end like everything else. When? Who really knows? David Koresh thought it would happen in 1993. He was wrong. Nostradamus was wrong, too. He predicted July 1999. And poor Harold Camping, the Christian radio broadcaster and numerologist who was positive the world would end last May, is now zero for three in his apocalyptic predictions.

Despite all these failed forecasts — and countless others like them — for some reason lately, I’ve had this feeling like the world may actually be coming close to some kind of an end.

Why was I thinking about this? Was it because my birthday was coming up? Was it the movie poster for Contagion I had been noticing throughout the city? Was it the G.O.P. debates?

Maybe it was all the recent hype surrounding the ancient and mysterious Mayan calendar. Apparently, the Mayan Long Count calendar ends on December 21, 2012. Many, including both scholars and crackpots, have interpreted this literally as Earth’s expiration date.

Doomsday Clock, Photo courtesy of damninteresting

Maybe it was the recent ominous tick by the Doomsday Clock, now set at 11:55 pm. This clock, maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago, reflects international events dangerous to humankind, such as the Fukushima nuclear accident and the ambiguity surrounding Iran’s nuclear power. The closer the clock is to midnight, the closer the world is to global disaster. Just a few weeks ago, smarty-pants scientists moved the clock one minute closer to midnight. They blamed an increase of nuclear weapon instability around the world and an alarming change in the global climate as the main reasons.

Myth and science, usually at odds, seem to be in agreement here. That’s a bona fide red flag if you ask me.

Should I panic? Should I start building an underground fallout shelter? Or should I be looking at this differently? Maybe instead of working on an emergency plan to escape ill-fated Earth, I should be working on my attitude. If Doomsday were imminent, would it really be such a bad thing?

A silver lining then hit me. No one would have to worry about dying alone. That would be a relief. The lonely act of leaving loved ones behind and departing for the great beyond seems to be a deeply rooted fear for a lot of people. Fear no more.

And, of course, we wouldn’t have to worry about saving the planet anymore. Alleluia! Let’s be honest, how annoying is planetary housekeeping? Nobody really wants to go through their garbage, picking out recyclables, or ride bicycles. It’s exhausting. It’s silly. So, the end of the world is a good thing. Rejoice! It’s liberating.

It's the end of the world and I feel fine, Photo courtesy of Technorati

It’s also inspiring. Just the menacing thought of the world’s demise has stirred the creative minds and souls of writers, artists and musicians throughout history.

The threat of an impending global doom has given birth to masterpieces: in literature, Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road; in art, Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment”; in music, R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” and the Clash’s “London Calling”; and in movies, Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” and most recently, Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia.”

Cinematic storytellers, especially, seem to be particularly inspired by the imminent doom that hangs over all our heads.

“Apocalyptic films function as a kind of warning about social, political or economic missteps that we as a society might be making,” said Bill Whittington, assistant chair of critical studies at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

He explained at a recent talk that apocalyptic stories have always interested filmmakers because of their drama and powerful messages.

Religious leaders around the world from the beginning have known that apocalyptic stories possess enormous power over people.

“It’s human nature to want to know how things end,” Father Eric told me just a couple days ago at the latest wedding counseling session.

“All these things, like the Mayan calendar or the Book of Revelations, are really about how life will change, not about how life will end,” he said.

Los Angeles crumbles, Photo courtesy of democraticunderground

I saw Los Angeles crumbling into the sea again as he was telling me this. But, this time, I didn’t break into a troubled sweat or thought about fallout shelters.

“The world will end,” Father Eric said. “It could be tomorrow, could be a thousand years from now. No one knows. That’s why you have to live each day like it’s your last.”

Who knew the apocalypse could be so life affirming? So, bring on the end of the world. It’s all good.

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