by: Dana Norris
I used to be afraid that the world was going to end. When I was in middle school a wicked rumor snaked around the lunch room: the world is ending this Friday, December 3rd, at 4:56pm. I asked how we knew this and the logic I was presented with was irrefutable: it’s the date. Think about it: 12/3, 4:56. Oh. My. God.
That night I announced to my dad that the world was ending on Friday and I was really nervous about it and maybe he shouldn’t go to work and I shouldn’t go to school and the whole family should spend Friday in the basement, cowering. He looked at me and sighed, “The world isn’t going to end. They’ve been saying that since I was a kid and it never happens. You wanna bet? I’ll bet you $1 it doesn’t happen.” His incredulity calmed me.
A recent Reuter’s poll reveals that 22% of Americans believe the world will end in their lifetime. Even more, 10% of Americans believe that the world will end this very year. I’ve managed to overcome my belief in the imminent end of the world and, for others considering a belief in that the world will end soon, I’ve created a helpful 5 step recovery guide:
1) For perspective, 22% of Americans also believe that:
- They have seen a ghost.
- American states should be able to secede at will (aka “the Civil War didn’t solve nothing”) –
- It’s cool to pee in a swimming pool.
2) We are terrible at predicting the future. We can’t tell 100% for sure if it’s going to rain tomorrow. We don’t know who’s going win the Stanley Cup, or American Idol, or the beer pong tournament in some guy’s backyard. Humanity has no idea what is going to happen next. Ever. This applies as much as to how long it’s gonna take the next CTA bus to arrive as it does to the end of the world.
3) We’ve been saying this shit for years, and not just since I was in middle school: ALL OF THE YEARS. Most religious traditions have an end of the world story. Christianity is focused on the return of Jesus and with it the coming destruction the world, but they’ve been waiting impatiently for this return since approximately 33 CE. There’s even a term for the fact that Jesus has yet to show: Delay of Parousia. I find this helpful because it reminds you that a) people have been failing to accurately predict the end of the world for millenia, and b) Delay of Parousia would be an amazing band name.
4) Yes, the Mayan calendar will end in December 2012. So will the calendar on the wall in my kitchen. But when the calendar in my kitchen runs out of days I won’t spend the evening hunkered in my basement with a pallet of beef-o-roni and a shotgun. Instead, I will buy a new calendar. Because it is the basic function of a calendar to list the days for a given period of time and then end. Every rock calendar has to end sometime.
5) I acknowledge that it is dangerously seductive to think about to think about the world ending. You won’t have any more credit card payments, you won’t have to worry about pollution, you won’t have to save for retirement. You won’t even have to quit smoking or manage your drinking problem. The future is a burden, heavy with possibility and consequence, and, seen from a certain angle, the lack of a future lightens the present. But this type of thinking is flawed and is the reason that we all hate teenagers. Teenagers behave as if the future doesn’t exist and that’s the reason you can’t trust them alone with your house for a weekend. Because the future does exist and yes, young man, you are going to have to pay to have the couch reupholstered.
We all have to do the work, live in the present, and act as though we will all be accountable to each other for what we do today. Because otherwise we’re all just a bunch of teenage assholes.
Dana Norris is the founder and host of Story Club, a monthly show for stories. She has served as the Nonfiction Editor and Managing Editor of TriQuarterly Online. She performs around Chicago with Mortified!, The Kates, Essay Fiesta, Stories at the Store, This Much is True, Beast Women, Waiting for the Bus and Cafe Cabaret. Her stories have been published in Tampa Review, Partner Dance Press, and been featured on Vocalo.org (89.5 FM). Dana received a Bachelors in Creative Writing and Religion and from Wittenberg University and a Masters in Religious Studies from The University of Chicago. She has a Certificate in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Chicago and is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Northwestern University.