• The End of the World (as we know it)

    by Carolyn Wyler, iPinion Guest Columnist

    “Earthquake 8.9 magnitude hits Japan causing a Tsunami.”

    Many of us woke up early Friday, grabbed our morning cup of coffee and newspaper (or the computer for those not so newspaper-savvy) to read the tragic headlines.

    “Over 200 confirmed dead, many others reported missing.” (These numbers are now much higher.)

    Our hearts hammered and tears ran down our cheeks, empathy for those many people hurting miles away. We continued on with our day, driving to our schools, work, running in late to staff meetings, shuffling papers, multi-tasking phone calls. For us, nothing had changed, well, at least nothing tangible. Many, however, questioned why or how something so terrible could happen. And why do these major tragedies seem to be happening with increasing frequency? India, Haiti, and now Japan?

    Some people turn to Science to find the answers; others to God.

    Seismologists tell us that, in fact, the number and intensity of earthquakes are not increasing. Rather, as areas of the world become more populated, large quakes understandably do more damage and claim more precious collateral. And with 24-hour access to instant information (through various media outlets) we are all kept much more apprised of global activity. The images scare us, and that’s understandable; some of these tragedies have been heart-wrenching.

    Seismologists predict a major earthquake could occur any day now in California, but can’t give us the exact day.

    Religious zealots, however, claim they know precisely when the end of the world will be, and have given us “exact dates” for that end, over and over again for thousands of years. No matter how often that date comes and goes, and with seemingly no embarrassment on the part of the prognosticators, these “prophets” continue to predict the end of the world. (Current bets are on May 21, 2011 and Dec 21, 2012, though at least this time the “21st date” seems to ring common, which could, if I had any religious inclinations, make me a bit fearful of all 21st days.)

    These zealots who study the bible daily and can quote numerous scriptures insist that the end of the world is close at hand, evidenced, they say, by the multiple earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters. They, too, predict a major earthquake that they think will leave California sunk at the bottom of the sea.

    Regardless of which of these views one subscribes to (I for one hope to God these religious fanatics are wrong, although I suppose it’s hard to hope to a person I question the actual existence of), it is no question that the news of another tragedy such as Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunamis has sent waves of emotional sentiment rippling across our country.

    In 2001 airplanes struck the World Trade Center, killing a few thousand, and permanently scarring humanity. The world mourned the loss of loved ones, but also mourned the loss of a sense of security felt in a world where there are regulations, laws, and protections all allegedly designed to keep us safe, yet that somehow failed.

    We also mourned the loss of a belief that most people are genuinely good.

    “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” Thank you REM; I could not have said it more perfectly.

    Though small in comparison, our own personal tragedies can create empathy and understanding for those suffering large-scale disasters. A death of a loved one, a debilitating illness, the end of a marriage; all of these cause disruption and turmoil in our lives that shatters our own sense of security. As we endure them they often consume our every waking thought (and sometimes interfere with our unconscious ones as well) and we are frequently left with our own “end-of-world feelings,” and, in fact, it is the end of a world as we know it.

    As we progress through life, pain, suffering, and hurt are inevitable. Fleetwood Mac sang, “Can the child within my heart rise above? Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?” Difficult times make us stronger, better people. They cause us to self-reflect and make changes and adjustments in our world-views and attitudes. They make us reach out to those in pain to lend support.

    I don’t claim to know the answers of whether there is a God or a day of judgment or whether natural disasters brought on by climate change will bring about humanity’s demise, or whether a comet or a nuclear holocaust will take us all down in one fell swoop. (Or whether none of the above will happen.)

    All I know is here and now.

    So yes, REM, in times of darkness, heartache, wars, tsunamis, and earthquakes, it may be “the end of the world as we know it,” but as they so wisely add, “I feel fine.”


    Carolyn joins iPinion in asking you to seek a disaster relief organization you trust to contribute to the enormous recovery efforts needed in Japan.

      • David Lacy

      • March 16, 2011 at 12:10 am
      • Reply

      Wonderful contribution to this edition of iPinion. Thank you!

      • Christy

      • March 16, 2011 at 7:38 am
      • Reply

      Very good column, puts into words all the emotions I have been feeling, and you are SO right…there is nothing we can do to stop naturally occurring turmoil. It’s part of life…death that is. It all ends at some point, or at least what we know ends and I hope there is something more on the other side for us…heaven, purgatory, a LOST island…whatever.

      Great job, welcome to iPinion!!

      • David Weinshilboum

      • March 16, 2011 at 9:25 am
      • Reply

      Thank you for a thoughtful, pragmatic and eloquent response to the Japan tragedy. Now I know where David gets his writing acumen!

    • I think we can do something and not just feel fine. Building nuclear reactors on known earthquake faults are a man made disaster waiting to happen. I understand that the Tsunami is a result of that earthquake but not recognizing that we have shared in this disaster is also a bigger mistake. We still have 23 nuclear reactors just like the Mark 1 that was determined to be unable to withstand a 7.0 earthquake and there it went on the two in California (where I live). Sure I was young when it was built but people had a sense then it was a possible disaster waiting to happen. I tend to be a realist and I don’t feel fine about all we are doing to create this mess. I have no rose colored glasses to put on and I am a better person for it. It might be too late for the reactors in Japan but if three mile island and Chernobyl didn’t do it for you this now might. It is in our backyard and sweeping the internet and allowing us to know this is very real this time. Thanks for writing your article. I hope it makes others think.

      • David Lacy

      • March 16, 2011 at 10:51 am
      • Reply

      I agree Madge, although I believe the column is more about centering the attention on the tragedy and the emotions of the events rather than the hysteria that often accompanies it in the forms of fanatacism. It’s pretty nuanced which is why I like it.

      • David Lacy

      • March 16, 2011 at 1:55 pm
      • Reply

      “Uh oh, overflow, population, common food, but it’ll do.
      Save yourself, serve yourself. World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed dummy with the rapture and the revered and the right – right.
      You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light, feeling pretty psyched.

      It’s the end of the world as we know it.
      It’s the end of the world as we know it.
      It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.”

      • David Lacy

      • March 16, 2011 at 2:19 pm
      • Reply

      “dummy with the rapture and the revered and the right – right.”

      THAT line is most what this column is about.

    • Nice column. Funny, you mention some things that I’ve been mulling as well, and was thinking of writing about. But then I read your column and thought “How do I write that and not sound like a copycat?” Hmmmm….

      I particularly liked your comparison to the quake in Japan to a death. I was thinking of a friend of mine, whose wife just died (she was my friend too) and how difficult it is to try and ease someone’s pain. What can you do, really, for a grieving person but hold them until the crying stops? I made an FB status post along those lines recently. The magnitude of the damage is so catastrophic, it is like a death. There’s nothing you can do, really, but adapt and move on.

      And… disasters and deaths…. they are part of life on this planet. Not part of the end of the world… but part of life and living. What can you do in either case but provide as much comfort as possible to the survivors?

      Thanks for a thoughtful and well-written column. And nice nod to REM because that high-paced, breathless song is sometimes how I feel about everything going on in the world.

    • I understand all of the above but I still think one can do more than just add comfort to survivors. We can be proactive and look toward alternatives then just picking up the pieces after the fact. I understand about the hysteria that follows but actually this whole event shows that it is not hysteria (Japanese are far from hysterical) but it takes people working for change. I am a child of the 60’s so I know of what I speak. It worked for me to fight and not just sit back and watch the hysteria waffle by.

      • David Lacy

      • March 16, 2011 at 6:27 pm
      • Reply

      The hysteria described herein isn’t the hysteria of the Japanese. This is about End Times rhetoric.

      • I know that. I have seen the billboards announcing for the end on May 21. I will wait and see-something tells me it isn’t happening this time either. 🙂 I am a literal person if you haven’t noticed this my now David.

      • Carolyn Wyler

      • March 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm
      • Reply

      Thank you so much for your comments. I have such great respect for you Debra, David W and David L as writers, English instructors and people. Christy as a nurse myself, I have appreciated and can relate to your columns on nursing as well as your column on exercise. And thank you Madge. I agree with you that there is always more than one can do to help people when tragedies occur.

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