by Todd Wm. Ristau
I remember the first time I ever heard that the world was going to end. I'd been watching that old movie version of H.G. Wells' Time Machine, and near the end of it he catapults through time to when the sun is a red giant and the earth is on the verge of being a cinder, just before the sun explodes.
Up until then I'd never even considered the end of the world, but when I found out it was going to happen I really wanted to be there to see it--even though that was going to be millions of years after I died. That made me want desperately to live long enough to see the end of the world.
And my desire for immortality was born. I suppose that was also the beginning of my attraction to the idea of the vampire, who has been a potent symbol of the desire for eternal life for centuries. And its important that the vampire must kill something else for every day it prolongs its life far into the future. I asked myself, even at a very young age, would I be willing to take a life every day in order to prolong mine? Would that be worth living to see the end of the world? I told myself yes, then. What did I know? I was a kid. A kid who wanted to live forever.
I was born in 1963. That makes me pretty old to most of you. But I was among the first generations to grow up in a time when the world could end not millions of years from now, but in the very next minute. When I was old enough to understand that wrinkle being a vampire wasn't quite so attractive. Yes, you're immortal now and you'll live to the end of the world, by the way, its tomorrow.
When I realized I might live to see the end of the world afterall, I suddenly didn't want to anymore.
And I saw it coming everywhere. When they took the American's hostage in Tehran, I knew it was just around the corner. When I turned 18 they reinstated the draft. I was certain that was a sign. I became obsessed with signs of the end times, and kept an ear cocked for all the doomsday cults that sprang up in the 80's. Does anyone remember the guy who took all his followers to Coney Island to meet the End of the World? I do.
On the day that the end was to come, I gathered some of my favorite things around me, the sweater my girfriend (who had broken up with me, by the way)had given me, some other reminders of what I had loved in my life, and I bought a strawberry sundae supreme from the DQ and went up on the highest hill in my home town and prayed while I looked toward Coney Island. I couldn't see it, my home town is in Illinois. I didn't pray to stop the end of the world--that wasn't my place, but I did thank god for all that had made my life something I would miss, and asked him that if it really didn't have to happen, could he give us an extension.
The hour came. It went. The world didn't end. I waited another hour just to be sure, because of the time difference, but then I got up, took my favorite things, and went on with my life. Until the next time it looked like the end. There was the Gulf War. Maybe some of you remember Johnny Cash singing about how "it's clear to anyone who cares to take a look....its all going by the book." There was a lot of stuff going around then about Saddam being the anti-christ in the blue turban who would bring about the end of the world. I got married. I used to joke that we got married because there was a war on...well, the world didn't end, but that marriage did.
Then there was Hale Bopp, and the Heaven's Gate Cult in their black Nikes. The comet passed, and the world didn't end. There were various asteroids and the comet hitting Jupiter that had me pretty convinced, but still the world went on. And now, September 11th, 2001.
I teach theatre up at Mary Baldwin College. One of the things we talk about in my classes, as it relates to tragedy, is the notion of Catharsis. The vicarious purging of emotion.
Like many of you I watched TV all day--and there was more emotion and fear and certainty that the end was near than I've ever had to process before. The next day I went out to have a few drinks with friends at the C-&-O, and I put on my favorite pair of jeans. The ones my new wife, Joan, tells me weren't even cool in the 80's. They are worn out and have a big hole in the knee. But they made me feel safe when I put them on, because they were familiar, and tight, and comfortable...
Tonight (Friday) while I was upstairs watching the news, Joan was downstairs also finding comfort in something familiar, something useful. She was running the sewing machine. I thought, Ok, she's quilting. I went in to take a look and saw she was patching my pants. She'd cut the fringe off and put a good solid denim patch under the hole in the knee.
When the towers collapsed, I didn't cry. When the plane hit the Pentagon I didn't feel the loss. When the plane went down near Pittsburgh, I didn't feel fear. When I saw those jeans it was all I could do to keep from collapsing in grief.
Maybe what I'm getting at is that living forever isn't all its
cracked up to be, and maybe the world ends every time it can't be
the same anymore--no matter in how small or how big a way.
"The end of the world"
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