The Apocalypse is not the End
Closing out the year, hope, and enduring
This year draws to a close not just under the darkness that always marks winter, but also unders another shadow. The days have been grey, relentlessly grey in my part of the world. What would have once been a white Christmas in years past is instead mist. As I write this the sun is poking out, stubbornly proving me wrong, but I’m not quite able to see that yet. This year, more than any other in my short life, the end of the calendar feels like the end of days.
It’s not the end of days of course, but I’m about to move across the country to my partner’s hometown, not permanently or temporarily, but in a sort of pilot program for the next segment of my life. Between the consuming thoughts about what’s happening in Gaza, the 50 degree December days, and a major chapter of life beginning to close I keep finding myself focused on the end, endings, and now the end of the year. But the constant pallor is obviously something beyond me, something others are experiencing right now, something far bigger than any one of us. The other day, ruminating maybe more than I should be on the state of the world and the idea of the end I was reminded of a class I took once on apocalypse. In that room we talked about pandemics, the crumbling of ecosystems and crisis of our climate, and nuclear war. But I was more taken by the initial conversations we held, our introductory talks about the specter of apocalypse at large. We, humans, have been collectively fascinated by the end times for some time. Often, in our conception, it is sudden and total. The world exploding, the religious vision of God flooding the planet or destroying it with fire, the immediacy of the rapture for so many.
My limited studies focused largely on a Western conception, driven by Christianity. Unsurprisingly the Book of Revelation informs, knowingly or not, much of the West’s thoughts around apocalypse, around any conception of an end of days. This segment of the Christian Bible features a seven-headed Dragon, eagles, lions, the second coming of Christ and so much more. Suddenly stumbling across these mythical beasts shocked me when I first read it, well into adulthood. Even more surprising was the idea that the apocalypse was a good thing. The second coming of Christ might involve mass death, and the destruction of the world as we know it, but to millions of people his return would be both necessary and for the good. In fact, I’ve understated it. To quite a few people the end of days would be the ultimate good in and of itself.
This is, in large part, why the United States has been littered and is littered with doomsday cults (and churches which are now pretty mainstream) that rapturously await and even try to bring on the rapture. The end of the world is, for some, something to look to with excitement and bated breath. The ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation changed that dynamic just a bit as it loomed over the heads of everyone on Earth for decades, but it didn’t change much of the underlying relationship with apocalypse. And it likely reinforced the idea that the end times would inevitably be sudden, and total. All these years and millennia later most of us still haven’t learned the painful truth that most ends, even most apocalypses, are gradual, painful, drawn out and sometimes ongoing. If we don’t learn the truth about the end of the world, and worlds ending, the apocalypse may rest eternally on the horizon, ever-present, always informing our lives in numerous ways, but never quite occurring. And the truth is that worlds are ending as we speak. Our own world, your own world, could also end; it might already be falling apart.
This is the last time I’ll write to you about the paid subscription sale, I promise. The 40% sale goes through New Year’s, and I hope you’ll become a supporting reader and allow me to write more for you in 2024!