Not The End Of The World As We Know it

This afternoon I was working at my desk when suddenly it started hailing.  What the . . . ?  Pebble-sized hail clattered against my window, as an unexpected thunderstorm blackened the skies and pelted downtown Columbus. It’s the first time I can ever remember it hailing during the summer in Columbus.

A friend noted that it was continuing the pattern of weird weather we’ve experienced lately, with dust bowl-like conditions and scorching heat interrupted by brief, unusually powerful storms.  And in America we’ve had a lot to deal with lately, from odd weather to mass-murdering nuts and racists to a bad economy and overwhelmed and under-performing political figures.  It was almost, he said, like the end of the world.  As he said it, you could almost hear the ominous orchestral music welling in the background, such as you hear in every end-of-the-world movie — and then we both laughed.

But people seem awfully skittish right now, and some folks might not laugh.  They might interpret the unusual events and bad news as signs of something more, and fall under the spell of an apocalyptic cult leader or political figure.  If you are focused only on the negative, you might see patterns in what truly is random.  It’s not as if we’re seeing frogs rain from the skies — and even if we did, that’s happened before, too.  And although the recent mass killings and political failures are terrible, the country has been through worse before and come out fine, and it will again.

At some time or another, we’ve probably all used the phrase:  “It’s not the end of the world.”  And it isn’t.

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Apocalypse (Not Quite) Now

Weird things are happening in the French Pyrenees.  New Agers have descended on the village of Bugarach because they’re convinced that aliens will emerge from a nearby mountain on December 21, the date that marks the end of the Mayan “long count” calendar.  The helpful aliens will cart all humans in the vicinity off to, in the words of one believer, a new era celebrating the “energies of tomorrow.”

The aliens expect we humans to perform some bizarre stunts in order to get a seat on the spaceship to the coming age.  Groups of naked believers regularly hike to the top of the mountain, which they believe emits special magnetic waves.  Some have been seen carrying a ball and a golden ring connected by a single thread on their hikes.  Is it some kind of a communicator?  An exercise device?  One of those desktop time-wasters, like the five silver balls that clack together until they become annoying?  No one knows for sure.

It’s hard to believe that aliens who are capable of living undetected under the Pyrenees would need — or, for that matter, want — to see a bunch of naked humans trudging up a magnetic mountain with a ball and ring.  Mountaintops can be cold; aren’t the aliens even a bit concerned that the humans might suffer from (ahem) exposure?  But maybe that’s just part of the aliens’ careful plan.  Perhaps it’s not going to be easy in the new era filled with the “energies of tomorrow,” and they have to separate the hardy few from the rest of us luxury-loving softies.

It’s hard to call what’s happening over in Bugarach a cult, because there doesn’t seem to be the standard “charismatic leader” who makes everyone wear a new track suit and carry a roll of quarters before they drink the Kool-Aid.  Still, you can’t help but reflect on how apocalyptic scenarios have changed over history.  In the past, religions often emphasized doing good deeds (at least, as the religion defined them) during this lifetime, so that when Judgment Day came your efforts would be assessed and found not wanting.  Now, people don’t really need to do much of anything to qualify for the next life — they just have to be present when the benevolent super-beings decide it’s time to save a few of us.

In these New Age scenarios, humans are little more than science experiments, to be rescued from the grimy Petri dish of our world by those helpful aliens.  Let’s hope they don’t just wash out the Petri dish, take their ball, string, and ring, and decide it’s time to head back to Andromeda.