It’s the End of the World—What Are You Going To Do About It?

It is the day before the end of the world, and I still haven’t finished writing my piece about the end of the world. I am, I admit, a bit of a dawdler—not just in work, but in life. I dilly, I dally, I put things off till the last possible moment.

When it comes to writing, this is OK—you’re given a deadline, and so even if you have to pull an all-nighter, you get it done. But in life, you don’t get a deadline, at least not usually. One day, death just shows up, stinky breath and all. The problem is that you never know when that day will come, and so if you’re a procrastinator like me, this loosey-goosey deadline makes it especially hard to do things like finally get your life in order. After all, as far as you know, you could have years and years to accomplish this. Surely, you can wait till tomorrow.

Well, not if tomorrow is the apocalypse, which for one reason or another, an alarming number of people seem to believe. In fact, a recent Reuters poll found that 10 percent of the global population—or around 700 million people—fear the world could end on December 21, 2012. 15 percent think the world will end, if not tomorrow, than at some point in their lives. (In America, perhaps the most solipsistic and paranoid of nations, 22 percent believe that crap.) I consider myself a reasonably sensible person, but over the past year, even I’ve had the urge to start stocking my basement with cans of tuna.

In response to such mass hysteria, credible scientists worldwide have made it clear there’s no validity to claims that 12-21-12 will be the apocalypse. In fact, NASA’s gone out of their way to post a Frequently Asked Questions page entitled “Beyond 2012: Why the World Won’t End,” in which they address people’s greatest doomsday phobias—Planet X, meteors, solar flares, super volcanoes, supernovas, etc—and explain how extremely unlikely it is for any of these events to occur tomorrow. (Of course, conspiracy theorists tend to take government denial as proof they’re on the right track.)

Any which way, none of this has stopped folks from making big plans for Judgment Day. Some, like New Yorker Giraud Lorber, are using 12-21-12 as an excuse to have a “Happy Mayan Apocalypse” party. “People want to believe in the end of the world because it offers up a chance to make some weird decisions without fear of the consequences,” explains Lorber. “And that sort of thinking tends to make for a good party.”

He didn’t seem exactly sure what they’d do at the event—he had no current plans to play any “Spin the Doomsday Bottle-type games”—but he was excited to see what kind of “rapture attire” people would show up in. “I mean, how do you dress to meet your Maker? Some people will probably choose to go formal. Others might choose feathers and glitter. One girl I know mentioned wearing a cape—I told her that was fine with me.”

Peter Gersten of Sedona, Arizona has slightly more supernatural ambitions. Gersten plans to spend this Winter Solstice at the top of Sedona’s Bell Rock, where he believes “a rare galactic alignment” will activate an “11:11 portal” to open, which he will jump into. He said in his YouTube video that all those noticing the 11:11 phenomenon in their own lives are invited to join him on December 21 to witness the grand opening of the cosmic portal, which he believes will lead to the center of the galaxy.

A doctor of infectious diseases in Brooklyn, who asked to remain nameless, doesn’t believe anything special will happen on 12-21-12, but he said that even if it were going to be the end of the world, he probably wouldn’t plan on doing anything different that day. “I’ve come to realize I’m a creature of habit,” he said. “As much as I’d like to believe I’d do something amazing, I’d probably do whatever it is I was going to do anyway. I mean, if it takes the end of the world for me to change my ways, I’m the biggest idiot in the world.”

To be sure, choosing Judgment Day to finally decide to get your life together is a little ridiculous. Isn’t it a little late to start over? Things like quitting smoking, getting in shape or finding a new job tend to lose meaning at this point. Nevertheless, being a big idiot, I admit that some sick part of me has at times wanted, if not the apocalypse, then at least some valid proof of my own end of days, a final deadline, set in stone, so I could fully realize how short life really is—and act accordingly. (Without this, my existence, seemingly infinite, has tended to become a container for procrastination, like a big jar of grape jelly.)

I am, perhaps, not alone. For whatever strange reason, some individuals seem to need an excuse to make things right in their lives—and the apocalypse gives them this. Or, as Lorber put it, “We almost seem to revel in it, that there’s going to be a reckoning of sorts. People want a chance to cross their Ts and dot their Is. Would you call that girl? Would you repair a damaged friendship with someone you stopped talking to long ago?” If tomorrow were your last day on earth, what would you do?

What would I do? I’d like to think my last day wouldn’t be too different from any other, though I do hope my eyes would be open a little wider. I’d want to have a burger at Melon’s with best friends, have the chance to give each of them a big bear-hug goodbye. I’d like to take a walk in the woods. I’d like to write a little bit, even though I know no one would ever read it. I’d want to spend some time with my family, maybe eat a roast chicken with them, stuffing and potatoes and gravy. I’d like to play cards with my mom—not so much because it’s something I’d adore doing, but because I know she would. I’d like to think I wouldn’t start smoking again, or anything like that—after all, bad habits are such a waste of time. Speaking of wasting time, I’d like to think I wouldn’t bother turning on the TV, though it would probably be pretty exhausting running around saying goodbye to everyone, and so the truth is I wouldn’t mind ending this long day, this short life, by curling up on the couch with the girl I love and watching Jaws.

***

Whether or not some apocalyptic event strikes tomorrow is hardly relevant… The reality—so hard to comprehend—is that any moment could be the end of the world, and if not the world, then at least your world. Some 55,530,627 universes will be extinguished in 2012, truly an apocalyptic number, though that’s just the normal amount of human beings slated to be taken by death this year, even without a doomsday occurrence. 151,723 or so people die every day—car crashes, chicken bones, the occasional shark attack. (The leading cause of death in America, where 6,885 people pass away daily, is “diseases of heart,” a factoid that for some reason makes me sad.)

In some sense, the apocalypse is a continuous occurrence. Dogen Zenji, the 12th century Japanese mystic and founder of Soto Zen Buddhism wrote that reality is created and destroyed 6,400,099,980 times a day, or around 70,000 times a second—life arising and perishing every micro-instant. As so often happens with ancient wisdom, modern science seems to agree. (Actually, it seems Dogen underestimated how quickly life blinks into and out of existence.) The Higgs boson, or ‘God particle,’ which is considered the building block of the universe, lasts only a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second. (Coincidentally, the place that discovered the God particle, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, is one of conspiracy theorists’ top choices for the source of Doomsday—most likely by creating a miniature black hole that would suck us all into it.)

***

No matter what anyone says, the world will indeed end some day—there’s little doubt about that. According to astronomers, that day will probably happen in another 5 billion years or so, when our sun becomes a red giant and its expansion potentially engulfs the Earth. Chances are pretty strong, though, that the apocalypse will NOT happen tomorrow.

But perhaps we should behave like it will. Everyone’s familiar with the old adage that you should live every day like it’s your last, and there’s definitely something to this. (The only problem with this attitude is that it could potentially lead to a certain hedonism—everyone getting high and pillaging and such, which could be fun, but not necessarily too constructive, especially if it turns out not to be your last day.)

And so rather than be so self-centered about it, better perhaps to flip the saying around a little bit, and treat everyone else as if it’s their last day. Or, as the essayist Og Mandino puts it: “Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.”

This seems like a pretty good plan for today, no matter what may happen tomorrow.

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