Yesterday came and went, but I never finished Ulysses. I never took up skydiving. Come to think of it, I didn’t even really finish cleaning up my closet before the “Mayan Apocalypse,” which did not occur yesterday, Dec. 21.
I remember thinking,”Finally, I get a Friday off — but there’s an apocalypse.”
When I first heard that the Mayan Long Count calendar was coming to an end at the end of this year — which, we cannot repeat enough, even Mayans never meant was the end of the world — I began to mentally make a few plans. But, they kind of got lost in the daily business of work, children and watching cat videos on YouTube.
I never saw The Ring Cycle, which I’m told, doesn’t exactly pick up your mood in any case. I never learned Latin or how to tap dance. I never wrote an epic poem about the Chicago fire. The Cubs didn’t win the World Series, which come to think of it, is an event that a lot of people thought would bring on the apocalypse.
And yet, I’ve kind of valued having the prospect of apocalypse in front of us, however preposterous, down to the very date. Like birthdays and holidays — like the gradually rising pencil scratches on a kitchen wall that mark a child growing up — seeing Dec. 21 approach this year served to remind us that even though an apocalypse may not be at hand, life is fleeting, fragile and unpredictable — and therefore infinitely precious. We’ve learned that in the hardest way just this past week.
Simon Stinson, the grump in the graveyard in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, tells Emily Webb after she has spent a few minutes back on Earth, “That’s what it was to be alive. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years.” These days we might add, “So how much time do you want to spend playing Angry Birds?”
But we don’t have a million years, no matter how many anti-oxidants we ingest. But that’s what puts joy and meaning into the moments we do have.
Even if we could say when our time would end, I wonder how many of us would really want to learn another language, make a surreptitious meal of the Ortolan bird, or spend our last months trying to decipher every last enigmatic Joycean joke in Finnegan’s Wake. It would be nice to think that a lot of people would choose to just look at those around us, hold them close and say, “I guess I didn’t do anything special this past year. And I wish I could do it all over again.”