It's the End of the World as We Know It. Well, No, Not Really. But What if It Were?

January 10th, 2009

What would you do on the last day of life as we know it?

A year or so ago, I read a Ray Bradbury story that really got to me and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. 

Because my house is a black hole for all objects (except, oddly enough, my nephews’ abandoned flannel shirts which hang around for eternities), I can’t at this moment find the Bradbury book so I can’t give you the name of the story or the collection.  But the important thing to know is that it’s a story about the end of the world.  Everyone in the story knows it’s the end of the world including the main characters, a husband and wife.   It’s the last night of their lives and the lives of everyone they love.  And they spend it . . . exactly the way they’d spend a quiet evening when it’s not the end of the world, eating a nice dinner, tucking the kids into bed, talking and sitting together, and finally going to bed themselves.  The world ends, not with a bang, but with a quiet and moving goodnight. 

It’s a lovely story, in its own way.  It takes the fear out of the end of the world.  Not that I’m particularly afraid of such a thing myself–the idea of the entire planet and everything on it disappearing is more appealing than otherwise to me.  My fears run to stuff like my loved ones being hurt or lost to me in some way.   Total annihilation for all of humanity?  I’m good with that.  Let’s all go together when we go!

So let’s say that, like those Bradbury characters, we know the end of the world is coming.  We have like 24 hours warning.  There’s nothing to fear: the end won’t be painful or scary.  One minute we’ll be there and the next, nothingness.  And it will be total, so no worries about kids or dogs or anyone left behind.  

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

I’m ashamed to say that my first thought, upon asking myself this question (prompted by the two earthquakes I was reading about this morning–I thought “wouldn’t it be funny if this is the beginning of the end?” which gives you some insight into my state of mind before I’ve had breakfast), was all about food. 

Because, if there’ s no future, I intend to eat like there’s no tomorrow.  I mean, there is no tomorrow so you can eat whatever you want–no weight gain or health worries.  Donuts feature prominently in my end-of-the-world fantasy.

Right on the heels of that thought was shame that I had gone there first.  Am I  really that petty, that obsessed with food and worried about my weight?  Well, yes, but that’s not the point.  I knew I could do better with my end of the world fantasy.

So I thought about what really matters and decided I’d want to make sure my kids know I loved them.  But they kind of know that already.  And I wouldn’t want our last few hours together to be filled with fear–I mean, 24 hours of my hovering over them shouting, “Do you KNOW I love you?  Because we’re going to die so I want you to KNOW I LOVE YOU” would not be fun for anyone.  So we’d have to be kind of normal. 

And of course I’d want my husband there–I’d want my whole family to be together, just the six of us, not freaking out or screaming or crying. Just hanging, watching a little TV (most channels would probably be covering the news that the world is ending, but I suspect the Disney Channel would be showing its usual tween-friendly fare, because they never seem to deviate from their schedule, no matter what’s going on), having a snack (I can just leave the dishes in the sink!  Hooray!  Oh, wait . . . I do that, anyway), eating something decadent (snuck that in there, ha) and . . . laughing together.  Snuggling on the sofa, under a blanket.   Curling up on the bed to go to sleep together because I think you’d want to all go to sleep together the night that the world ends.

Now that I think about it, my fantasy isn’t all that different from what Ray Bradbury showed people doing in his short story.   Just a normal evening spent together.

We can’t live every day thinking it might be our last–it would probably make some of our choices better, more meaningful, and we’d undoubtedly waste less time on celebrity gossip–but it would be an unbearably heavy burden to have to keep reminding ourselves every minute has to be worthwhile.  I doubt it’s a sustainable proposition anyway. 

But maybe we’re kind of aware of our limited time here anyway.  Maybe  every time we make the choice to linger lazily next to someone we love, to spend a moment enjoying something as simple as the frosting on a slice of chocolate cake, to stop and be still for a moment instead of rushing to the next thing–maybe with all those little quiet gestures we’re doing all we can to accept and brave the inevitable finality of life.

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