Yes, this is the year of the biggest doom of all—the Mayan Apocalypse. Time will stand still; the earth will cease to turn; giant asteroids and rogue planets will collide with us; a new Ice Age will cover much of Europe and North America; global warming will make a desert of everything and melt the polar ice caps. Angels, demons, and aliens will appear and whisk us off to Heaven or Hell, or to a perfect planet that has no war or pestilence or famine, or even death.
I’ve been thinking a lot about doom since Y2K. On New Year’s Eve, 1999, I asked my husband if we should store some water or something and he replied “If you want to” and went back to reading his book on ancient history.
Y2K was a blip. All those years that should have heralded the end: 999, 1999, innumerable dates in between, were also blips. Most people just shrugged it off and went about business as usual. The end would come in God’s own time.
Now it’s 2012. I intended to lay in a store of grains and freeze dried foods last year mainly because this summer the harvest is predicted to fail. Now all I have put aside are four jars of pickles and one jar of last year’s peaches. And oatmeal—lots of oatmeal.
Yet in spite of my lack of preparedness, I’m not worried. I’m not scared of any of those horrible things possibly happening, but I am terrified by other things, things I see actually happening around me (you know: political, economic, environmental, stupid things). But in 2012, just what am I most afraid of?
The ultimate fear—that of ceasing to be. Now I see how all that pondering over Kierkegaard decades ago scarred me and left me falling from the highest tower of being trying to count the windows, or have conversations with others, or engage in fun-filled adventures. Anything but look down and see the inevitable splat.
Then there’s the nausea. Some things do make me ill—violence, loud angry voices, threats, unkindness, thoughtlessness, and of course, my own lack of perfection.
Then came the dread. Yup. The dread that washes over one’s nausea like a five kilometre high tsunami and threatens to drown everything beautiful, and great, and joyous, and uplifting, and hopeful.
By nature I am a happy person. I always try to see the best in everyone’s motives and I was completely astonished to discover that not everyone is nice and some people really are as mean as junkyard dogs, and that beauty might be only skin deep, but ugly spirit went clean to the bone.
So an apocalypse seemed distant and had nothing to do with me.
Yet, it has everything to do with me. I am a selfish being, it turns out—not as nice as I once was, nor as naive and credulous. But it IS all about me. And you. And them. And that’s why I think we become afraid when confronted with a big ending.
We’re selfish creatures and a sense of self-preservation is strong in us. It’s fed by our natural greed without which we likely would never have made it out of Africa. Some other anthropoid would be in charge of the world and maybe stripping leaves off the trees for a light supper rather than stripping trees off the land to build more houses for more people.
I’m trying to make sense of six decades of images and ideas that contradict each other at every turn. Would the earth be better off “Without People”? What the heck does “better off” mean? Would the natural world recover from our abuses? Of course. Would some beautiful species still go extinct? Certainly. Would the rats and cockroaches care? Nope.
What if only SOME of the people disappeared? Who gets to pick? All the right-wing religious fanatics? All the left-wing humanist fanatics? Libertarians? Librarians? Indigenous people? Immigrants? Do we all go back to the land of our fathers or mothers? Yikes, what a prospect!
What I’m trying to say is that every day is an apocalypse somewhere on our planet.
It doesn’t matter if we are hit by giant sow bugs from outer space, ten times the usual number of tornadoes, or hailstones the size of basketballs. It will be something. It will be a motor vehicle, misadventure, self-destruction, or even autodestruct when you are 127 years old and riding your bike too hard uphill and the old ticker can’t keep up. Every day, every year is Armageddon.
My father-in-law Jack used to say most people are just trying to get to the next day in reasonable shape. How we each get to the next day varies, and that explains a lot. It also explains in part why we are so fascinated by doom. Other people’s doom, that is. It distracts us from our own and when we walk out of the theatre, or put the story down, we are relieved we lived through it, and can continue to hope we will live well into the next day, and beyond.
I pause here because this is where I paused to get myself to the airport to fly home from the 70th World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago.
Following the end of a hectic weekend at WorldCon, I relaxed all afternoon and evening before my 9 p.m. flight out of O’Hare. The aircraft landed a little late, and then we had to wait for late passengers, probably from a connecting flight. We were nearing 30 minutes late by the time we pulled away from the gate. Then we had to wait on the tarmac for the crew to input a new flight route. I knew then that this was going to be a longer than usual delay. Then we needed to go back to the gate for more fuel. That did not make me feel secure. We needed more fuel to avoid some “weather”, they told us.
Since I’d spent much of the afternoon also working on this editorial about doom, destruction by giant meteors or rogue planets, zombie plagues, and coronal mass ejections of an unusual ferocity, my mindset was not in a mood for “weather”. I’d also come to the part in the editorial where I discussed personal annihilation just before I arrived at the airport.
So, when our airplane took off, fuel-heavy and loaded to the max with passengers and their gear, the pilot was putting pedal to the metal to get us airborne quickly. I didn’t enjoy the liftoff and was in fact relieved when we did. I didn’t want to reach the end of the runway while we were still on it.
Bliss. Height. Speed, and then, what I thought was the dark of Lake Michigan, the dark of clouds. Dense clouds.
Anti-collision lights on and reflecting back so bright we could read by them. Then came the really big bumps and now I understood clearly why flight attendants say “fasten your seat belt as we may experience some turbulence”.
Bumps and granddaddy of bumps. A Disneyland of bumps: Mr. Toad’s wild ride and Indiana Jones’ shaking train car ride joined into frightening, belly-dropping, weightless moments.
I almost panicked. Of course then I thought again about personal annihilation. Mine. And while I was concerned, there was not a darned thing I could do but meet my end gracefully and with forbearance. I would not scream, even if I wanted to.
Not having control of the outcome was a sobering thought. More bumps. Big bumps. And what I was sure was loss of significant altitude, since gravity didn’t seem to be pressing on me as much and my stomach was somewhere in my throat.
I closed my eyes and remembered the rides at Disneyland. Whee! I pretended I could almost enjoy the moment—after all, I was still alive and the airplane was still where it should be—up.
The flight attendant looked a little grim, but her eyes weren’t wild with terror and so I tried to relax.
I reached for my neck pillow—not really thinking I would go to sleep, but hoping it might somehow prevent my neck from breaking from the bumps and wobbles. Okay, not really thinking the whole thing through, but it helped settle me.
Then all the bumping stopped and we were out of it. Really out of it. And when I looked out the starboard window I saw what we’d actually avoided.
Thor in a rage. Zeus duking it out with Indra. And others in one hellish donnybrook.
At 32,000 feet, I could see the thunderstorm was as high as we were. Flashes illuminated the miles and miles of a massive storm cell that marched toward Chicago. Every second one, two, or ten flashes. A battlestorm of cannon flashes. Then we moved away from it and sleep once again crept over me, but first I had to write this all down.
We were an hour and a half late into Edmonton. I was glad. It is always better to be late with the storms behind you.
So my editorial about Doom finishes a little as it started—with hope and acceptance of the inevitable.
As for an apocalypse, everything will go on—either the same or differently, and there’s not much we can do about it except marshal our courage to do what we can to make the world and our existence in it a better thing, until the world’s natural end, and the end of all time and space.
Until then, happy trails to you, and peace and long life.