Warning: This blog is under the influence of the Holy Spirit. (That's actually a blessing of course. I'm just trying to be fair to the skeptics.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

2012: Apocalypse Interrupted

or, 2012: The Year We Make Confetti

I was on an errand for my mother when I first found out.
Purchase a loaf of bread and bring it home – that was all I had to do. When I think back on those occasional grocery missions, they were neither necessary nor urgent tasks. I used to think it was her way to make me stop pestering her about wanting  to ride my bike somewhere, anywhere.
But, I think she was trying to teach me some responsibility and independence…”and don’t forget the change!” 
But, education is about more than the 3R’s as this event bore out.

Peddling my sting ray home from the Louis Store in Pittsburg at the tender age of 8, I glanced up at the side of the building. Written there was a freshly hand painted message that read, “The World Will End On…(the exact date eludes me but it was in late May.)”

My heart raced as I peddled faster.  It was only a few weeks away!
Panic stricken, I rode home and went straight to my father, pleading for information on this eschatological game changer. He smiled that mischievous smile of his. Then, stepping over to me, he ruffled my hair, saying, “They’ve been saying that since I was a kid too, son.”  Astonished, I reeled with mixed emotions, relived that we will go on living, embarrassed at my naivety, curious to know more, and flummoxed that someone would go to the trouble of making up stuff like that.
Completely unaware that there was this book known as The Revelation, I began to develop a fascination with Doomsday myths and scenarios from that point on.
My curiosity AND naivety were never completely lost even after my first lesson with the so called, truth.
Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan in The Last Man on Earth, Charlton Heston as Dr. Robert Neville in The Omega Man, (Both based on the novel, I Am Legend,) alien invasions of every sort, celestial cataclysms, and post nuclear war narratives dominated my imagination throughout my childhood and well into my adult years.
I’m not going to say I have never invested in canned foods and shotgun shells.  I have always been and shall be a Boy Scout. Beware zombies; I’ll be waiting for you.
The alien invasion scenario remains with us in many contemporary variations. The evil outlanders, cold, calculating, whether they be a microbe, plant, insect-like, humanoid, or machine, thirst for our planet's riches and our bodies, eager to suck us of our life blood and our very soul. In this war of worlds narrative, one can see the aliens as allegorical to ourselves, our animal soul always lusting, devouring everything and everyone for the sake of self.
 “Men come and go but Earth abides,” a derivation from Ecclesiastes 1:4, was the inspiration for the title of one of my favorite books. An obscure little read, Earth Abides by George R. Stewart remains to this day one of my favorites, having read it at least two dozen times over a span of 40 years. In this story, a strain of super measles wipes out the people of earth, save for one man and a few others who set about to rebuild American civilization right here in the San Francisco Bay Area of all places.
Today, the Zombie Apocalypse dominates the Doomsday myth. Will Smith in I Am Legend portrays to us again Dr. Robert Neville, now fighting zombies instead of vampire-like survivors.  By the way, I really hate the kind of fast moving super zombies depicted in this movie. Don’t you?  They’re way harder to kill.
The pandemic is one common element portrayed in these scenarios. Whether driven by a desire to cook up bio-weaponry, create super humans, a cure for cancer, or from a naturally occurring virus or bacteria, the rapidly spreading “super bug” kills us or creates inhuman monsters that kill us.
It is a historical fact that in our desire to control nature and master the world, whether for domination, personal power, or to benefit mankind we frequently create more problems for ourselves. Our animal lust and legitimate need for goods seems to boomerang on us. We end up worse off. Or we end up, at least, with  new problems after solving one problem. These are the results despite our good intentions.
The super bug is a kind of hyperbole for that condition and allegorical to our need for control over our environment.  
In the midst of these narratives we find the hero (ourselves) battling to the bitter end and not always with cheerful results. Even when there are multiple survivors, there is always one central hero. Their struggle reminds us of our temporal Earthly struggle against some of the things mentioned here.
When I was a child, my favorite archetype was the scientist hero who always had (or was able to figure out) a way to save everyone. This lofty figure was highly intelligent and held a kind of messianic post among his or her peers. He or she is the modern Daedalus, the skilled and clever maker who is not always concerned with ethics but only one thing: what can be made or done through science. The figure can be said to be a metaphor for modern science, with a tendency to concern itself with doing and making for its own sake. Rarely is asked the question whether it is necessary to make or do a thing in the first place.  
As I have grown older, I find my preference drifting more to the common man survivor. He or she may be a mechanic, doctor, cop, the embattled malefactor with a change of heart, or the mysterious unnamed drifter who comes from out of the wasteland. Their struggle is real.  The same can be said of their compassion, and concern for the weaker, less fortunate.  Even if reluctant at first, they never ignore the call.   
No matter what, the myth of the hero is inspiration for our own heroic rise. Heroes model for us in this way. We need them.
We don’t seem to see as many post nuclear war stories these days. Mad Max’s dark heroics have faded from the scene since the cold war ended. In a kind of curious parallel, Mel Gibson has diminished too. Too many ice cold martinis and anti-Semitic smack have reduced him to the kind of road kill we pass by from time to time. Coincidentally, one of his most recent films, Apocalypto, depicts a Mayan civilization steeped in human sacrifice and cultural corruption heading to collapse under the weight of its own lustful desire for control and power.   
This brings us to the Mayan calendar and the year 2012.  Ok. So the end of the world is COMING…again. This time its December 21, 2012.
Now, this Mayan calendar is just a calendar, an arbitrary and extrinsic measurement of time. It ends just as our Gregorian calendar ends every year. But if it is true that it predicts an end, then so be it.
It is perhaps timely that this Mayan apocalypse should come during the season of hope, a time for beginnings. In the Christian faith (and Catholicism in particular,) we read from the book of The Revelation and other apocalyptic readings during the advent season. This is because of who Christ is. The beginning is bound up with the end in the same way that Christ is both the beginning…and the end.  He is the alpha and the omega.
The Doomsday myth is certainly entertaining if nothing else. Nevertheless, there remains concealed within it a kind of barely decipherable riddle that points to the truth. But, it’s not so difficult to unravel if you seek the quiet…and listen.
Bound up in the Doomsday myth is both the hope and fear we all share. It is the communal flickering remnant of our original and destined state. It is in the light of this flame that we see the Doomsday myth made manifest.
One could say the Doomsday myth informs us of something. The narrative speaks to us about human folly in our desire to make ourselves Gods. Or, it humbles us in its message that we just aren’t that powerful after all; that there is always something elusive we didn’t consider, there all along, just under our noses. 
It also reminds us of ourselves, about our nature. In a certain sense, we have both a human and inhuman nature locked in conflict. Our dark nature creates our problems for sure. However, our truer nature, willed to action, is what promotes our potential for salvation from ourselves; albeit we can’t do it alone. For even the hero in all these narratives never attains what was sought before the apocalypse. He never attains the control or power over what caused the doomsday event. Nor does he ever completely restore what was lost. It is beyond his control. It’s not his call.  No, he usually just fights to stay human and protect those he loves, which is enough.  And in that fight, he gains everything that really matters.
As Will Smith portraying Dr. Robert Neville in “I Am Legend,” says in the final scenes, “I’m listening.”  In this epiphany, he understands what was under his nose all along. He just had to pay attention, not necessarily to himself.
The end, when it comes, will be a beginning. So, there is nothing to worry about.  This is the hope that flows from the spring of faith. It is life everlasting.
There is no doubt the end will come. It is near an astronomical certainty as we can summon.   And, the Earth will be no more.  Or, it will happen in some other way; it doesn’t matter. But, it won't be an end for us.
So pop a cork and celebrate. Laugh and love one and other.  Let's shred all the worries of the future and let it fall about us as confetti in our party for life, love, and hope.
Next year there will be another apocalypse predicted. Followed by another, and another…
Besides, there can't be the end on Friday December 21, 2012. We look forward every year to our friend’s annual Christmas party.  This year it’s on 22nd.  And, it’s always most excellent.
Several weeks ago my daughter cuddled up with me on the couch in front of the TV to watch the Walking Dead. During a commercial, she spoke quietly as if asking a question, “Daddy, they say on December 21 the world will end.”
Where do I begin…?

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