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.