When the world again doesn’t end
Let it be at last a letting be
Let our sages speak of love
And the End of the Age
Let the frigid earth be frigid
Let the winds howl among us
Let us like trees in the storm stand
Bending not to the bluster but only
Lending limbs into the abyss to lift
The lost, the pall of death and other
Let us not pretend unto perfection
Lead us not into the sublime—instead
Leaden our feet to paths by pilgrims broken
And leaven this day our daily bread
Again, let it rise, again, let it
And let us know that we are lucky
Let it be that at the End of the Age
We remember the meaning of eternity
Let us remember
That nothing returns that never left us
That Heaven already is here
If we let it be…
The world is supposed to end again. The first time I remember it was to end was 1987. I was ten. A man stood outside church and handed out leaflets. My mother assured me no one knew the day or hour—but still, I had known many grownups who believed this to be an inevitability and said so with a terrifyingly graphic surety. I do not recall whether this was before or after I sneaked to watch The Prince of Darkness, a B-movie starring Alice Cooper. The characters sought to prevent Satan from entering the world through a mirror portal in the basement of a church. I watched it alone, at night, and when it was finished I saw the floor of the living room open to swallow me down to the fiery abyss. It didn’t happen, and the world didn’t end in September of ’87 – though I sat in wait, all night.
My excuse is that I was ten. By the time I was fourteen, years of apocalyptic preaching had me wishing God would just get on with it.
This was the same year that was to be the end of corporal punishment at school, a decree not especially popular where I came from. I got detention for chewing gum in class, but there came with that an option to take a smack of the paddle for every day of detention earned. A swift one to the backside seemed so much more attractive than 2 hours of after-school torture.
I had been quite certain of my decision—and, honestly, felt I was working the system—but the principal at that time seem to take a somewhat sadistic glee in dragging things out. For several mornings I waited for my name to be called over the intercom. For several mornings it was not called, but I was not allowed to think perhaps they’d forgotten, for in the halls daily the principal would laugh as I passed. “It’s comin’, boy,” he’d say. “Oh, yes. It’s comin’!”
Sometime in the second week, it did come. After all that, he missed—got me on the hip. But in that moment, I felt two things had happened:
- I was too old to be spanked.
- I now knew I had control over my own situation.
Borges wrote in his essay “The Fearful Sphere of Pascal” that the great thinkers of the Renaissance felt humanity had reached its adulthood. This was immediately followed by a widespread senility that “exhumed the belief in a slow and fatal degeneration of all creatures consequent on Adam's sin.” Humanity grew up, and then, almost as quickly, grew old and regressed into the sad kind of childhood that comes with dementia.
Perhaps he was right, and for the past four hundred years people have been waiting—praying—for the end as though in the throes of a prolonged, but fatal, illness.
Perhaps it’s time we knock that off.
Perhaps it is fitting that the word renaissance means to be reborn. It suggests the old age and death of an old way of life.
Perhaps things really do move in cycles. Perhaps all of humanity is born, dies, and is born again over the generations. In the 14th Century, as though awakening to a previous life after 1000 years of darkness, Europe rediscovered Plato and Aristotle. As we put to the great sleep our senile old humanity, what will we rediscover?
Will we rediscover that all this waiting and praying for the end is a sado-masochistic game we don’t have to play?
Will we rediscover the oneness of humanity?
Will we rediscover love and charity and forgiveness?
Will we rediscover tolerance and acceptance of others?
Will we rediscover that insisting on differences between us is a poison we drink daily?
What’s happening is not the end of the world: it is the end of an age. It is the end of an age of ignorance, of greed, of cruelty, of darkness. It is an end to the lengthening of shadows, of our fascination with contrast, and the beginning of our focus on the light.
At least, that is my childish hope. And that’s a better hope than waiting to be lifted out of my shoes and leaving the rest of the world to suffer some fiery punishment.