Lately I’ve been hearing more and more predictions about the End Times. Many people believe we’re in them.
The proof, they say, is all the terrible natural disasters we’ve been experiencing for years, which now seem to be at a peak; the appearance of celestial phenomena; the coronavirus pandemic; the abandonment of the “true” faith for a life of greed and worldly things; and so on.
To the end timers, the prophecies of the Bible are being fulfilled. In Matthew, we find warnings that seem to point right straight at 2020. “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.”
I can’t say one way or the other if the end is near, but I do know that such predictions have been going on for centuries. Every age has had its Day of Reckoning. Remember, for instance, Dec. 21, 2012? That was the day the world was supposed to end. The media played it up to the hilt, until we were in the midst of an end times pandemic.
I was among those who were more than just a little nervous. And here’s what I wrote about it, eight years ago, when I woke up Dec. 22 to find that I, and everybody else, was still here.
Well, Dec. 21, 2012, otherwise known as the End of the World, has come and gone. Doomsday turned out to be just another day. What a surprise.
That infamous date got added to the hundreds of other apocalypse predictions that have scared people silly since pretty much the beginning of recorded time. But it doesn’t seem to matter that every time people have attempted to predict the end, they’ve inevitably failed. In a testament to the good old indefatigable human spirit, we just keep at it because someday, someone is bound to be right.
Were you nervous about Dec. 21? I was, sort of. I mean, I couldn’t really believe that it would be earth’s last day, but what if it was? Shouldn’t I be prepared, just in case? Did I have my house squeaky clean for God’s final inspection? Had I accomplished everything I’d wanted to? Had I repented of my sins? And with whom should I be spending my final hours? My brother and his family? My mother Hazel? My cousin Claire in Raleigh?
For the last six years or so, Claire and I had been making 12/21/12 plans. We discussed the situation at length, updating each other on the numerous theories as to the probability of the prediction being right, and the various ways it could come to pass.
We fed into each other’s fears about asteroids and gamma rays and planetary alignments and polar shifts and Armageddon. We ate up all those TV documentaries about the Mayans and their creepy calendar, and the Hopis and their dire prophecies, and the Bible Code, and Nostradamus’s quatrains and all the other sure signs that 12/21/12 was “it.”
Claire’s husband, Mike, even went so far as to mark their calendar, albeit in jest. For Dec. 20, he’d playfully written, “Pack for Rapture.” Claire thought it was very funny. But then again…
Last week, the History Channel heated up, airing all their documentaries about 2012 and the end of the world. The SyFy channel paid homage to the coming event with cheerful warnings like “2012: The End is Now and Mayan Doomsday Prophecies.” Even TCM got in on the act in a tongue-in-cheeky sort of way, devoting a chunk of its Dec. 21 programming to apocalyptic thrillers like Panic in the Year Zero, The Last Man on Earth, On the Beach and other nightmare visions from the 50s and 60s.
If there was a perfect day for the world to end, at least in Western Michigan, Friday, Dec. 21 was it. The wind blustered and bellowed. The snow swirled. At some points, some people said, it even rained ice.
I looked out at my car in the driveway, covered in a thick coat of frozen snow, and contemplated going out in that miserable mess and spending half an hour cleaning it off. If the earth was going to blow up in the next 16 hours, was it really worth the bother?
How to spend the day, were it my last? I could eat whatever I wanted, since in a few hours, calories and diabetes wouldn’t matter. Hmm. A pig out at Red Lobster? The giant Cantina Burrito at Taco Bell? The fabulous all-you-can-eat buffet at that new Indian restaurant in Muskegon?
But it was so awful out, I didn’t want to drive anywhere. It looked like my old standby favorites, mac and cheese and hot dogs, would have to do. Not exactly the most elegant way to exit planet Earth.
I thought about calling my closest friends and relatives and telling them I loved them. That, according to statistics, is the first thing people say they’d do if they knew they were going to die. But it was 8 a.m. A little early, especially in L.A., where none of my friends, I knew, would appreciate being roused at 5 a.m. to hear my goodbyes.
I figured I could wait a few hours. On the other hand, chances were the asteroid wouldn’t accommodate my schedule. What if it hit in the next hour? Or the next five minutes?
That was the trouble with this whole thing. They’d given us the day, but not the hour. Those Mayans! You’d think if they were so brilliant, they could have been more precise. You know, like “At 3:47 p.m. on Dec. 21, 2012, the End will come.” Pooh—maybe they weren’t so smart after all.
What about work? I had a New Year’s roundup feature due at noon for the Herald-Journal. If it was indeed the end of the world, that would be a waste of time. On the other hand, if it wasn’t Judgment Day on earth, it would be Judgment Day at the Herald-Journal, for me, anyway. I figured I’d better turn in the story.
The clock ticked on. I finished the article, had lunch, cleaned the kitchen, did the wash. By evening the storm had subsided. The night was quiet and clear. No rumbles of approaching destruction, no trumpets sounding. At midnight, I breathed a sigh of relief and settled down to watch Alfred Hitchcock Presents, followed by the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, and then the Jack Benny Show. It was 1956 all over again. Things were back to normal.
Why, I wondered, had we allowed ourselves to get so worked up over something that was never going to happen?
Two human flaws—ignorance and gullibility—are to blame.
Because most of us aren’t NASA scientists, we tend to leave the mysteries of astrophysics and geology and astronomy to the experts. So, when the experts start telling us that 12/21/12 is an ominous date from the standpoint of a whole lot of different cultures, we tend to believe them.
After all, they’ve used the most sophisticated and advanced techniques to study this stuff. Professionals have decoded the Mayan hieroglyphics, and the hidden prophecies in the Bible, and have charted the solar system down to the last millimeter of accuracy. Some scientists actually went on the record saying that some sort of cataclysm would definitely occur Dec. 21, 2012.
So we believed them, because we didn’t have any evidence to challenge them.
Isn’t it amazing that all the money and effort and expertise that went into the 12/21/12 Doomsday predictions were one big fat waste of time? That in the end, nobody knew anything? That, essentially, we were conned?
I guess old P.T. Barnum had it right. There is a sucker born every five minutes. And an “expert” too. Put the two together, and you’ve got the end of the world—the world being the rational, intelligent universe.
So on Dec. 22, my cousin Claire e-mailed me. “I’m still alive. Are you?”
I e-mailed her back, “I think so, unless I’m in the next world, and it’s just like this one.”
And here’s the perfect ending to this column: a postcard I once bought for a nun friend of mine, who busted a gut when she got it. It was one of those solemn religious pictures of Christ, with the caption:
“Jesus is coming. Look busy.”