Apocalypse Not

So, the Mayans were wrong. We’re still here. No escaping all those unpaid bills, looming deadlines, promises you made that you wish you hadn’t, closets to excavate, thank-you notes to write (does anyone still do this?), books you were going to read by the end of 2012, dirty laundry, December re-runs, Washington gridlock.

For those survivalists who paid $20-million for an armageddon-proof ark, I hope they rethink their investment strategy. Doomsday is big business, and they’ll probably find another apocalypse to pin their hopes on. But think of all the good that could have been done with that money to make life on Earth more livable.

Ridiculous as the 12-21-12 deadline for life-as-we-know-it seemed, however, I have to admit that a little part of me wondered . . . what if? I didn’t do anything differently. I didn’t stop making appointments for January or not bother to plan menus for the week or call my daughters to say how much I love them in case we never saw each other again.

But I did imagine, if only for a few minutes, how I would fare if there were some kind of earth-shattering disaster. One of the ways I drive myself crazy in morbid moments.

As always, when my mind travels down this rabbit hole, I concluded that I would not fare well. Chances are I’d get an infection in my fingers that would do me in without antibiotics. Or I’d fall behind and collapse in any escape or mass exodus that required strenuous physical exertion. No way to stock up on enough bandages and medications to last me five years in an underground, waterproof bunker. Which I guess is okay, because we couldn’t afford one to begin with.

Really, who would want to survive an apocalypse, anyway? The only people left would be the crazy ones with enough money and guns to hole up in a multi-million-dollar ark or a renovated missile silo out in the middle of nowhere. I’ve read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I don’t want to go there.

No, I’d rather be right here, with all the messiness of daily life. The Mayan Apocalypse was just another distraction, a way to avoid the mess. But that’s what we’re stuck with.

Healthy or not, wealthy or not, we’re all vulnerable as soon as we leave the womb. Facing each day, sticking with it despite all the struggles and risks and disappointments and losses takes courage and fortitude and faith. You can sequester yourself in an ark of your own making. But the only way really to survive—and thrive—is to dive in and swim.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.


  1. Pat Bizzell says:

    There is a long history of millenialism in the U.S. It has often been associated with some branches of fundamentalist Christianity. I seem to recall that the Millerites thought the world would end in 1838. Should have checked that date before I wrote this reply.

    Seems to me that apocalyptic scenarios are particularly popular these days. They certainly turn up often in films and TV shows. “The Road” was even made into a film. Gruesome. Then there’s the TV series “Terra Nova” which imagines a world so deteriorated environmentally and corrupted politically a hundred years from now that many folks are eager to embrace time travel back to an earth still populated by dinosaurs.

    Why the fascination? Some sort of collective guilt for our social failures that makes us unconsciously long for punishment?? Happy-ending movies nowadays involve only a few people’s personal lives. Seems that we cannot imagine a larger community getting something right.

    Perhaps this is one reason I was so enthralled by the film “Lincoln.” It depicts an era in which, amid much blood and struggle, we as an American community did get something right–although it seems a sacrificial lamb (the assassinated President) was a psychic precondition.

  2. Fear of death is one of the great motivators in life. Apocalypse is death writ large. Perhaps our current preoccupation has more to do with our greater knowledge of all the possible threats to existence than any expectation of punishment deserved. I think the strangeness of extreme weather, the sense that we’ve irreversibly damaged the planet, heightens our anxiety.

    • Pat Bizzell says:

      Heightened anxiety? Yes, I agree. But I am not sure that there are greater threats to existence now than in former times. Great swaths of human society could indeed be wiped out by extreme climate change, or by nuclear weapons (let’s not forget them). Yet these outcomes feel remote to me. I’m not sure it’s mentally healthy to worry about them all the time, so if we do, then why?

      If I had lived in earlier times, it would have been quite rational to fear death in childbirth, in warfare (whether as soldiers or hapless civilians), or from diseases (many of which are now controlled). You yourself, Ev, would not have lived long in those days, as you tragically imagine in your initial post.

      • You’re right that there have always been threats to existence–and yes, warfare, poverty, epidemics are as old as humans. I think the difference has to do with the volume of information we’re consuming, the speed of communications, that makes us–or makes me feel, in any case–slammed by the amount of human suffering in the world, and so many risks.

        It’s no longer just what’s happening around us that heightens anxiety about the future; it’s the compounding of news about disasters around the world, all instantaneous. We can see video of the polar ice caps melting. We can see the New Jersey shore flooded by Sandy. We can see people running from attacks in Syria, or read about the massacre in Newtown as events unfolded in real time, on blogs or Twitter feeds or Facebook. It’s not just a story in the newspaper days later or a presentation brought back by explorers from the far reaches of the Earth. It’s in our face, 24/7.

        • Pat Bizzell says:

          You are right that disaster news is pushed in the media 24/7. I wonder whether anxiety is actually heightened by “experiencing” disasters virtually. Unless one happens to be in a disaster zone, the calamity is not actually in one’s face. Perhaps for that very reason, our imaginations run riot.

          I think possibly in earlier times, a person might be in the presence of death–not watching it on tv–more often. Possibly in such circumstances, there was more social support for dealing with calamity, more comforting rituals.

          There is an interesting book called “A Paradise Built in Hell.” I’m blanking on the author’s name and yet it’s one of the most moving nonfiction works I’ve ever read. It chronicles what happened in various disasters, from the early 20th century San Francisco earthquake to 9/11. But the author’s focus is not on the death and destruction. Rather, she tells us how the survivors behaved. And you know what? By far the most common reaction was to pull together and help each other. So much so, that survivors later on actually reminisced fondly about the early terrible days and longed for the feeling of community they had then.

          • Sounds like a great book. We see that same reaction playing out in the Newtown tragedy.

            I think the vicarious experience of trauma through a 24/7 news cycle does one of two things: either it immunizes you from the angst, because you see so much that you just take it in as another piece of information and then click away, or it triggers your worst fears. In that case, you don’t have the “benefit” of communal support and pulling together with others who are sharing the tragedy–you just feel vulnerable and helpless to do anything, other than maybe make a donation to the Red Cross. You get trapped in the anxiety “fight or flight” cycle. So, yes, I think all that disaster news fuels angst and fears of the worst. Sometimes, fortunately, it also spurs people to do good and try to make a change for the better, like pushing for stronger gun control laws.

            On a more cynical note, I also think apocalyptic predictions will continue to surface in one form or another because it’s big business. Fear is one of the prime motivators in marketing. Millions were spent by those who tried to get ready for 12-21-12. Apocalyptic movies and TV shows make money. So, the phenomenon isn’t going to go away anytime soon . . . unless the world really does come to an end!

  3. Pat Bizzell says:

    P.S. on Millerism: the sect predicted that Jesus would come again, ending the then-known world, in 1843, 1844, and 1845. So my date was not too far off. Many kept their faith after what they called the “Great Disappointment.”

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