Friday, December 20, 2013

Teen to Teen Talk: The End of the World

by: Elizabeth Horner

My high school graduating class was obsessed with predictions of the end of the world. We all knew that the same year we would walk across the football field to receive our diplomas--- green and white ceremonial gowns flapping around our ankles, nervous eyes scanning the sky for clouds--- was also supposed to be our last year of existence, if the Mayan’s highly accurate calendar suddenly ending meant anything.

I doubt any of us actually believed in the mythology. But it was fun to talk as if we did. My mom and I discussed plans to be together on December 21st. Friends shared bucket lists, and the possibility that our release into the ‘real world’ was actually the reason for doomsday. And then we would switch to other topics--- questions about our future extending long after the date in question.

To be honest, as we approach the winter of 2013, I can’t even remember what happened last year on that date, except that it wasn’t the end of all life as we knew it.

Whatever the details, I’m pretty sure that I got up, had lunch, probably checked my Facebook account or did some pleasure reading. I was also probably, at that point, still preparing for my trip back home from my study abroad program in London--- a plane ride which gave me no cause to fear unexpected circumstances. And in the midst of all this nothing, the sheer and utter normalness of these tasks, I learned an important lesson--- (Isn’t it strange: the idea that you can learn something, not from new experiences, but for the everyday taken-for-granted ones?)--- Life. Plods. On. Even if we don’t expect it to. Whenever we think something is the end of the world, it isn’t yet.

Of course, there are dangers more real than the story of the Mayan calendar, and therefore, much more capable of casting a large shadow over us. And it is true, that some of these shadows are inescapable: the loss of a loved one, the guilt of a past mistake, the pain of an old injury…. Yet, for the most part these shadows are solar eclipses coming over us only on rare occasion. Most of the things that we stress about with the tenacity of a dog gnawing at a bone are not as astronomically harmful. The break-up with your boyfriend after months of drifting apart, the fight with your sister, a reduction in your hours, can certainly be a dark time, but these shadows, while seeming impenetrable are most likely the work of clouds, drifting in a long line over your head and yet, destined to split apart….

In some ways, fear of the future is important. It motivates us to work harder, obey the rules more, things that are vital we if we are to get the things we deserve and need to strive to obtain. But if we can’t conjure up some faith that things will turn out, eventually, there’s a chance that that despair will make us give up altogether. A person who thinks that tomorrow is the end of the world, and so spends all his money, releases all the ties of responsibility--- how will that person react to waking up to a still-intact earth the day after that? Quite as if he brought on his own destruction.

The only thing I can advise is---patience. Time is the only teacher that can tell you if a problem is truly permanent or not, but most often, life’s lesson is that things will sort themselves out. And someday we will be able to look back on the last twenty years, the last forty or sixty, and see how many “ends of the world” we have survived, see how much smaller and insubstantial they have gotten when we look at them through that rearview mirror of time.

There is a Norse myth that says that the world will end on February 22, 2014. Their version of the Apocalypse, Ragnarok, will supposedly take place, and spirit off billions of people. No disrespect to that ancient culture, but I fully intend on attending school that day--- and the day after that, in the hope of once again getting to wear a graduation gown. For while that last day of my high school career really did signal the end of one world, it was also the start of another.

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