Sunday, December 16, 2012

The End of the World

I've been thinking about the end of the world. Not because I actually believe in the Mayan apocalypse, but when you hear it spoken of, you start to think about it. What if the world was actually going to end this Friday? What if I absolutely knew that this weekend would herald the end of existence? What would I do with my week remaining?

I'll tell you one thing, I wouldn't be writing my take-home final.

But the world, in all likelihood, isn't ending yet. Life has a way of enduring no matter what happens. Even when your own personal world ends, everyone else's just keeps going. And by that, I don't mean death.

Death isn't the end of your world, not if you've built it around others, around a family and friends. The end of the world, for me, isn't when you're taken from your loved ones. It's when they're taken from you.

26 worlds ended on Friday.

Being so wrapped up in my papers this past week, I barely realized it was Chanukah, usually one of my favorite times of the year. It wasn't the usual song-filled warmth-fest with family and friends. It consisted mostly of lighting candles quickly and then running back to my room to work on more final projects and papers. It was a sad feeling, but you know, a grad student's got to do what a grad student's got to do.

All of Chanukah, I found myself praying in my free time (by which I mean the 30-50 minute subway commute to school and work every day). I'd pray for answers and help finding my way. Even though they always say never to rely on a miracle, I found myself praying for one.

Not for a big one like healing the sick or ending a war or winning tons of money. Mostly a small, selfish one. I feel like most miracles are like that. The things that others seem to have but you can't quite scrape together. So when it works for you, it's miraculous, even if in the big scheme of things it's the most ordinary thing in the world.

And then on Friday, I got back from work, and started my Shabbat prep. I turned on my laptop for something to put on in the background, only to discover the news from Sandy Hook, the Facebook rants for gun control and against politicizing tragedies.

And when I lit the candles before Shabbat, I sat, for once, staring at them. Shabbat means I couldn't write my paper. I sat next to the Chanukah candles and prayed on my own. And I thought about tragedies, and I thought about miracles, and I thought about the end of the world.

I thought about making sense of the unfair things that happen to us. When family members get sick. When friends suffer mental and emotional abuse. When people don't appreciate each other and take each other for granted. When small misunderstandings or words left unsaid explode into wars. Unfair things big and small. I can't picture anything worse than losing your child. I don't have children (yet). But I can barely picture losing a friend to violence, let alone someone much closer.

Then I thought about the people who were fighting each other on Facebook and other websites about whether we should be talking about gun control so soon. And a small, horrible thought occurred to me.

Maybe, at least, if something this awful had to happen, maybe it could at least become something important. Maybe it could lead to law reform, or funds being created, or new progress in treating the mentally ill? Obviously, none of that would transform this from anything but a tragedy. Obviously, better it should never have happened.

I thought about people I know who have suffered huge losses, and how they used their experience with tragedy to help others. And I thought about the apocalypse.

If the world was ending this week, what would I do?

I would stop Facebook chatting my friends and call them instead. I'd explore the place I live and eat the food I like. I'd drink a glass of wine or a cup of coffee to taste it, not to get a buzz. I'd stop putting up with the people who don't deserve my time. I wouldn't tell them off, just drop them from my weeklong life.

And I'd tell the ones I care about exactly how I feel, and hope that they have the same end-of-the-world perspective to say it right back to me. I'd hug a lot of people. Real, tight hugs. I would look someone I care about in the eyes, ruffle their hair, observe little details like freckles or wrinkles or facial structure, appreciate that they're devoting a few moments of their remaining week to me, too.

But the world, in all likelihood, isn't ending this week. And let's face it, we're probably not going to get any miracles.

So I can only see one option. If we want G-d or the universe to help, we have to meet them halfway. If we want to live a whole, regret-less life, we have to act like the world is ending, but also remember that there will be consequences for whatever we do after Friday. Last week, I took a few small, but for me huge steps to make sure I don't live my life with regret. I haven't gotten feedback for some of these steps yet, so that scares me, but I suppose I'll see what will happen soon enough.

And I think about 26 worlds that have ended. Maybe I can't do anything to make sense of something so awful. Maybe all I can do is take a look around me and picture if that had happened here, if my world was ending. So many people responded to the news with pleas to their friends to "just hold the ones you love."

In some cases, I have held the ones I love since. In others, distance has prevented me, and I've wished ever since that I'll get the chance soon. G-d, I'm preachy.

But hey, if it's the end of the world, I might as well say what's on my mind. Even if there aren't going to be any miracles.

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