Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End is Near? Then let's make the most of it!

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.

The numbers may remind us of an old Fortran code, but they speak to us of mystery and things unknowable. Therein lay their beauty and their power. We take solace in what the Good Book tells us: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, not the Son, but the Father only. ”(Matthew 24:26). 

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.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mayan Party End of the World set list

A few assorted friends, colleagues and former Literature of the Apocalypse students are gathering to celebrate the winter solstice and to take stock in Mayan predictions of the end of the world. We are ushering in the New Age with a party of raucous revelry and some adult beverages. Here's the set list we'll be listening to as we count down the hours remaining until 12/21/12 turns the calendar page.
disc one playlist
Waiting For The End Of The World 3:27 Elvis Costello  
Antichrist Television Blues 5:10 Arcade Fire
All Tomorrow's Parties 6:00 The Velvet Underground
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall 6:53 Bob Dylan  
Death To Everyone 4:31 Bonnie "Prince" Billy
It's The End Of The World (And I Feel Fine) 4:07 R.E.M. 
Eve of Destruction 1:59 The Dickies
For What It's Worth 2:41 Buffalo Springfield
Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring 3:13 Traffic  
Origin Of Species 3:06 Chris Smither  
London Calling 3:20 The Clash  
Immigrant Song 2:25 Led Zeppelin  
Time Has Come Today 4:59 The Chambers Brothers  
Don't Let It Bring You Down 2:58 Neil Young  
Waiting Around To Die 2:43 Townes Van Zandt
(Nothing But) Flowers 5:36 Talking Heads
2012 (Bury Our Heads) 3:51 Dengue Fever
Tomorrow Never Knows 3:00 The Beatles

disc two playlist
It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) 4:07 R.E.M.  
Highway To Hell 3:28 AC/DC
The Man Comes Around 4:27 Johnny Cash  
Rider 4:25 Okkervil River
Revolution 3:26 Dr. John
Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues 3:32 The Kinks  
Long As I Can See The Light 3:34 Creedence Clearwater Revival  
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue 4:15 Bob Dylan  
Farewell, Farewell 2:40 Fairport Convention
All Things Must Pass 3:47 George Harrison  
Jump Into The Fire 7:02 Harry Nilsson   
1999 6:15 Prince  
Before The Deluge 5:48 Jackson Browne  
This Wheel's On Fire 3:53 Bob Dylan & The Band
Gimme Shelter 4:31 The Rolling Stones  
There Is A War 3:03 Leonard Cohen  
Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down 2:18 Uncle Tupelo
Revelator 6:23 Gillian Welch
The End 2:22 The Beatles

disc three playlist

All Along The Watchtower 2:35 Bob Dylan
John The Revelator 3:19 Blind Willie Johnson
Jesus Gonna Be Here 3:22 Tom Waits
Strange Things Happening Every Day 2:53 Sister Rosetta Tharpe
The Lord Is Back 3:22 Eugene McDaniels  
Judgement Day 4:10 Elliot Randall & The Deadmen 
Going By the Book, Johnny Cash
Dancing With Mr. D. 4:54 The Rolling Stones
Here's Your Future 2:29 The Thermals 
Drunken Poet's Dream 4:21 Ray Wylie Hubbard
It’s Not Too Late 4:27 T-Bone Burnett
Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring 3:13 Traffic 
Lay Down (Candles In The Rain) 3:50 Melanie
Road To Nowhere 4:19 Talking Heads 
Political Science 2:01 Randy Newman
Great Atomic Power 2:46 the Louvin Brothers
Keep The Car Running 3:29 Arcade Fire 
Apocalypse Dreams 5:57 Tame Impala 
The End 11:47 The Doors

disc four playlist

New Year's Eve at the Gates of Hell 3:31 Ray Wylie Hubbard 
Ashes To Ashes 4:02 Steve Earle 
Til The End Of The World Rolls Round 2:35 Flatt and Scruggs
O Death 3:20 Ralph Stanley 
End Times 2:58 Eels 
High Water 4:05 Bob Dylan 
Calamity Song 3:50 The Decemberists 
Die Die Die 2:51 The Avett Brothers 
Earth Died Screaming 3:39 Tom Waits 
Five Years 4:42 David Bowie 
Blow Your Tuneless Trumpet 3:56 The Mekons 
Doom and Gloom 3:59 The Rolling Stones
Lawyers, Guns And Money 3:30 Warren Zevon
No Time to Live 5:20, Traffic
Closing Time 4:02 Leonard Cohen
1999 6:15 Prince 
All Along The Watchtower 4:01 Jimi Hendrix
Don't Say No (It's the End of the World) -- Skeeter Daivs
Mystery Track -- Sacred Poets of the Apocalypse