The Story of You and the End of the World
It’s always been waiting.
Suppose you went to the retreats, subscribed to the magazines, attended the talks, and knew all the songs. Suppose it was never strange to you, because creatures are obliged to take on the shape and size of their surroundings. Suppose you could quote the warnings from memory. The warnings weren’t as fun as the songs, but they were necessary, because the world was dangerous and there were so many ways to fall.
Somewhere along the way, They started training you for the final days. They started when you were still young enough to consider “knight” or “princess” legit career goals.
A list of things that scared you:
- A rat maybe swimming up into the toilet bowl and biting you on the butt while you were trying to poop.
- All your stuffed animals potentially being destroyed in a fire.
- The microscopic bugs that lived in your eyelashes.
- The end of the world.
As a tiny soldier, you knew you needed to be prepared for the quartet of deadly riders to arrive at any moment. You pictured them breaking through the clouds with their woeful gifts. Maybe the horses’ hooves would smash into you immediately. You read books, consuming information about avoiding cursed numbers alongside your worn copies of Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown. When you watched the news you guessed at which figure might be the foretold one.
They kept telling you how important it was to be steadfast and submit heroically to death when the time came.
But you feared you were a coward. Your odds of getting through a martyrdom scenario without reenacting the blender scene from Goonies weren’t great. What would They say if They knew?
Because They were so brave and They were determined you needed to be brave, too. They created horror films for this specific purpose. On Sundays They gathered you and your friends, turned down the lights, and hit the play button, giving you glimpses into all of your fears.
You witnessed kids dying and being sent to the abyss. You watched the heads of the steadfast get chopped off. You heard all the screams. In one movie you observed fiends tormenting kids and locking them into cages.
They told you all of it was real and you needed to take it very seriously. When you had nightmares, they were gory with terrible production values.
You were afraid to talk about the way the movies made you feel. If you admitted you were scared, then you were admitting your trust wasn’t strong enough. And if your trust wasn’t strong enough, then all the terrible things from the movies would happen to you. So you stayed silent and so did your friends.
Sometimes bad things happened in the world. “Proves we’re living in the final days,” They’d say conspiratorially. They were starving for the end of the world; They couldn’t wait for it to come.
You hoped They were wrong.
You hoped the reckoning might wait a decade or two, so you could make it to the kissing part of your life before everything went away.
You worried that when They began to rise into the sky, like holy hot air balloons, you’d be left behind with all the people who didn’t have enough trust.
They kept upping the stakes. They locked everyone inside. They wore boots and pretended They’d arrested you. Then they interrogated you, trying to get you to crack, to admit it was all a scam. If you held fast, then you won the game.
Afterwards They ordered pizza.
You didn’t plan for the future. Why bother? Each time you started a book, you hoped the world would last long enough for you to finish it.
And now? Maybe you don’t hate Them for what they took. They also taught you how to forgive, not thinking you’d need it for this. They believed everything was for your own good. They believed you’d be safely tucked away in utopia when the final days got really bad.
You weren’t sure. You wondered if your secret thoughts were strange and dangerous. If those twists of your mind would tilt your ultimate outcome more toward fire than splendor.
For the entire history of the world, there have always been Theys who thought the world was ending. So far, They have been wrong. Sure, tomorrow everything could explode in a haze of smoky gas, fat ladies singing and flying pigs, but this planet could also have another thousand years in it. That’s some comfort, at least.
Each day the world doesn’t end brings another food you can try, another joke you can tell, another friend you can make. Another chapter in the book that you’re writing. Life happened to you while you were waiting for demons to arrive and it would have been nice to be half as prepared for the former as you were for the latter. Not that anyone ever is. You know each moment you steal betrays Them somehow, but you keep on stealing them.
Or, maybe They were right and the world is always ending. In lots of small ways, one day at a time.
There are signs everywhere, if you look for them. Earthquakes are signs. Wars are signs. False prophets are signs. Panic-stricken toilet paper binges are signs? You wouldn’t be surprised.
You don’t want to look for signs anymore. The world will keep ending, with or without you. The way to stop the fear isn’t to pretend, isn’t to cry, isn’t to obey all the rules, or break the rules one by one. It’s to make room for love, make room for joy, make room for silliness. Even a crack will do.
Stay well and wash your hands.