By Chuck Bauerlein
As most folks know by now, the world has been scheduled for its demise for several thousand years now. Just ask any Mayan you can find.
How interesting is it that the legacy of their prediction out-lived them? It’s ironic, but scary at the same time. We know worlds do end because theirs’ did, they just picked the wrong date. Why didn’t they see the Spanish coming?
The notion of the End of Time has us in its thrall today more than most days because that old Mayan calendar has finally turned its page and arrived right on schedule: 12/21/12.
Yet we take a deep breath and watch the skies and we glance at the calendar, too. It is today? We can’t know. But I’m betting not.
I first heard about the Mayan calendar when I was a boy of 10 or 11. At the time, a shudder ran down my spine just thinking about a concept so big as the End of the World. It was stupefying. How could they know? I shrugged and took a look on the bright side of things: at least I’ll be an old man when it happens!
Not long after I learned about the Mayan prediction, I was walking down the hallway of my Roman Catholic grade school. I was out of class because I knew how to help serve mass as an altar boy and the school priest was serving the Eucharist at the high school.
My principal, a nun in the service of the Sisters of Mercy, stopped me in the hallway wanting to know my business. When I explained it to her she waved me on my way but then she suddenly stopped in her tracks and addressed me. “Charles,” she said, “who is your best friend in school?”
I was taken aback for a moment, unsure what to say. My best friend was a boy from my neighborhood but I explained to her that “he doesn’t go to our school, Sister. He’s a Protestant.”
She glanced at me sternly and pointed a knowing finger in my face. “Well, you know Charles. He won’t be in heaven with us.”
I was too stunned to answer her. But I never forgot what she told me. And I began to question everything she or any other cleric told me after that. What I thought to myself was something like this: “Oh, really, sister? Do you honestly believe that?”
Would a merciful God do that? He would consign anyone who was not baptized in the Roman Catholic faith to the eternal flames of damnation?
I became a skeptic that day. I wouldn’t say I lost my faith, but her comment put me on my career path. I started to wonder about everything, especially the things that didn’t seem logical. I went to school to study journalism where we were taught to hold power accountable and to ask impertinent questions of people in authority.
On the face of it, sister’s comment made no sense. Neither does the Mayan calendar. The staying power of religion has to do with these things we cannot know. But we are witness to death from a young age. In the normal scheme of things, we experience the death of our pets die or we notice when a tall tree come down in the front yard.
Then our grandparents pass or maybe our aunts and uncles. Then our parents pass too and the idea takes hold: we too will die someday. What will happen to us?
Intuitively, instinctively we all learn what will happen. Death happens. The inevitable ending we all know is coming happens.
There is glory in that. And celebration, too. I will be enjoying tonight with some dear friends and former students. I've spent several days decorating the interior of my home with crime scene yellow and black tape; with posters and reminders of violent visions of the end of the world. I'm expecting one friend to bring a human skull....something appropriate I can place on the "Fiscal Cliff" I dredged out of the Brandywine Creek last week and stuck on my diningroom table, surrounded by plastic snakes and fighter jets. It will be like Halloween, only better.
We’ll be listening to a playlist of songs inspired by thoughts of the end of the world, having a few adult beverages and thinking about endings. It’s what humans do. And believe it or not, we’ll have fun.
We can thank the Mayans for helping us to remember what’s really important: embrace each day as if it’s your last. Because you just never know which one it will be.