[This is from a series of stories/essays that I’ve written this past year. They are personal and possibly universal. Comments appreciated.]
“It’s the end of the world as we know it,” the band sang, he forgot which one. R.E.M? He never liked R.E.M. He thought, Little did we know at the time how right they were. The world was changing, had changed, drastically since he was scream singing that song at some drunken party in the eighties.
He was spinning his “End of the World” playlist on Spotify through his Iphone. Spinning, what a quaint word. It used to refer to actual records spinning, pressings of vinyl. When music went digital, CDs and hard drives spun for a time. These days, only he was spinning.
A friend suggested he add a happy, poppy song by Lenka to his playlist. She sings “At the end of the world, I will be there with you. And, we’ll throw a party to celebrate the things we used to do.” It would be a great contrast with the many doom and gloom songs in the list.
This playlist was his favorite. It included Elvis Costello’s “Waiting for the End of the World,” The Turtles’ “Eve of Destruction,” Blue Oyster Cult telling us “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and Dylan singing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. He was most proud of the covers of classic songs, Diana Krall with “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” or Rod Stewart crooning “For All We Know” where he sings this might be our last moment so we must enjoy it. It was not strictly an end of the world song, but he liked the sentiment. It fit.
He wondered again about his obsession with The End of the World as We Know It. For him it was a less a fear than a fantasy. What would happen if all of this changed? When he thought ‘this’, it was easy to imagine civilization as we know it changing. He could even see his house, jeep, job and city going away. Losing people was a harder swallow, but why not? He tucked that image away as being too callous and unloving. He buried the entire thought underground and got on with the myriad of responsibilities rushing towards him every moment of his existence.
“It’s the end of the world as we know it.” Yeah, he thought, I’d be fine.
He was shopping at Smart and Final. He made a Smart and Final run about once a month for large items in bulk. His house didn’t have enough storage to shop at Costco. He grabbed a couple of those 2.5 gallon water containers. His wife had used two of them last week for some event. He needed to restock their earthquake supplies: one gallon per person for seven days, fourteen gallons. He put three more jugs of water into his basket. He was buying five to go with the two left in the closet. He thought, This is pretty silly, we’ll never need these. He thought, This won’t be enough if it really happened.
If the big one happened, if the ground really shook, he knew it wouldn’t be about the first week. Yeah, some unlucky people would die, be squashed by cheap and old construction, the roads would fail, and there certainly weren’t enough Red Cross workers to create shelters and feed the 8-12 million in Southern California.
The real problem would be week two. A major break on the San Andreas would sever all roads, water, electric, gas and data lines running across the fault. It would take months to recover. In that time, no amount of boats and airlifts would be able to supply enough water and food. Combined with the lack of communication, anarchy would be around the corner. Institutions and the very structure of society would not have the resilience to recover.
Standing in the aisle of the Smart and Final, he thought, Perhaps, I should finally wander into that relic of a gun shop on Washington Blvd and buy a gun, a few guns or maybe Home Depot for some gas cans and portable generator, a tent. Could we make it to the in-laws in Mexico?
Once again he asked himself, Is this fear or anticipation? Right beneath the surface was an excitement. The big one would bring big changes. Weren’t we ready for a reset?
The end of the world and its aftermath was everywhere: in the books he read (THE BONE CLOCKS, STATION ELEVEN), movies (MAD MAX, THE ROAD, WALL-E) and television (The LEFTOVERS, THE WALKING DEAD, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD) he watched. Even if someone wasn’t drawn to the idea like he was, it was impossible to avoid.
This new age seemed particularly fragile. We could easily be rocked back to the days before electricity. The dark ages seemed more feasible than keeping up this technological wonder that we called ‘life as we know it.’ It all seemed so very fragile.
He wondered what the catalyst might be: A Major Earthquake? Aliens? Zombies? Solar Flares? Perhaps a killer virus that wiped out ninety-plus percent of the population? Or just the stupidity of war?
He was a smart guy. He knew the reason the idea of an apocalypse proliferated the world consciousness was that the world as we knew it was changing. We’re predisposed to be afraid of change. Technology, communications, power structures, societal roles and prejudices, well everything, was changing. The world was not the world his grandparents had on the farm or the world his parents lived through in the fifties and sixties. The world was different now than it was than he was a kid in the late sixties and seventies. The past twenty years had seen so many changes, such as his Iphone wirelessly connecting to an internet, gay marriage, a black president. Change was happening and it was rapid.
He remembered a book he had read, DREAMING OF THE END OF THE WORLD: Apocalypse as a Rite of Passage. It was written by a Jungian Psychologist who had collected thousands of dreams from people who had dreamt about blowing ourselves up. They ranged from the horrific to the sublime. He wrote that we were creating a new myth to deal with our fear of change.
While nuclear annihilation/apocalypse/holocaust seems farther away, it has been replaced with a plethora and smorgasbord of cataclysms. He thought, Why not? Everything is so new. Of course, there is a shadow of fear and trepidation.
Technology was changing our minds, our perceptions of reality, how the world works, and our very thought about our existence. Physicists kept telling us that what we see is not what we get. The universe is happening on a level we can’t comprehend and all of this might just be an illusion that we constructed to calm our existence.
But as he had said the other day to his friend at lunch, “The cracks were showing in the illusion, and it could break.”
He had a dream the other night. There was a large pile of storage in a theater where he worked. The pile was smoldering. He knew it could burst into flame and destroy the building along with all of the people on it. Or, it would put itself out. But for some reason, he couldn’t put out the fire. All he could do was wait, prepare for the moment it burst into flames, a conflagration. Then, he would need to have a plan to get the people out of the building, to save the most precious items. But for now, all he could do was wait. He sat across from the smoldering mass and waited.
When he awoke, he understood the dream and the symbols all too well. He knew that the dream wasn’t about a fire or about the end of the world in a larger sense. It was about the end of his world. It was time to move on, change jobs, change his world.
He had this world view that he couldn’t shake. It went, when the universe tells you to change, you need to change. If you don’t, the universe will change you, and it won’t be easy. He wondered where this world view came from, some vestige of the wrathful Christian god he was brought up to believe in as a child? Still, he knew he was the god/universe and that larger part of himself was letting him know he needed to change.
He didn’t know how, but he announced to his larger self, to his universe, he was ready to change.