Several days after the end of the world…

I am told that the world ended on December 21st.  Not a minute too soon.

Not that anyone would miss it.  Not after this year!

Oh, yes, it started with great promise.  New Year’s Eve came with celebration, with hopes for a bright and wonderful future and of course, with the mandatory resolutions and promises for change.  By the next morning, New Year’s Day, throbbing heads and broken vows ushered in a year of faded hopes and broken dreams.  Three hundred and sixty-five crappy days to go.

It was a year where hopes were raised, only to be dashed again.

Arab Spring deteriorated into failed states and lost dreams.  We marvelled at the courage of the people in the streets.   We hoped for their liberation and the creation of authentic democracies.  We watched as the dreams faded.  We saw the new political order echo the words of the Who – “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.

Not that things were any better on this side of the ocean.  The US election was a giant disappointment.  Was their ever a time when that nation truly needed to reinvent itself, to have a vigorous debate and contest of ideas?   This was truly an opportunity to unite a nation and meet the challenge of a difficult future.  Instead, it fizzled into schoolyard name calling where a divided nation electing the person they feared the least and even that by only a slim margin.  Deadlocked and leaderless, the once most powerful nation in the world marches lemming-like towards a fiscal cliff of their own making.

Sandy Hook massacre shocked that same nation.  It shocked us all.  The only consolation in this tragedy was that certainly this would finally bring this gun mad nation to its senses?  Once again, hopes were raised.  Even the National Rifle Association was silenced for a few days.  Then, in its considered response, the NRA proposed the solution — armed guards in every school.  These children died not because there are too many guns in the US – but because there are not enough.

Look at the number of violent deaths in the US.  Look at the number of violent deaths in the UK.  Look at the number of guns.  Do the math.  From hope born of immense tragedy, we descended into insanity.  Is this Orwellian madness the tribute to those lives cut short?

Yet acts of madness against children were not the sole purview of the U.S.  In Pakistan the Taliban  said it carried out an assassination attempt against a 15 year old girl because she was “promoting secularism”.  What exactly was her crime?  She  had campaigned for the rights of girls to have an education.

If only we could place the blame solely on gun crazed red-necks and the madness of Muslim extremists.  Not so.  In the world’s largest democracy, a brutal gang rape became India’s  Sandy Hook.  In outrage, women took to the street to protest.  The response of the Indian government?  They cracked down on these innocent women protesters with a ferocity that sadly had never been shown to the perpetrators of these crimes against women.  The New York Times reported that women in India  “regularly face sexual harassment and assault, and […] neither the police nor the judicial system is seen as adequately protecting them”.

It was a year where children were not safe, where the rights of women were dashed.  What else could go wrong?

Apparently, a lot.  It was also a year where economic inequality grew — where the gap between rich and poor widened — but where we cared less.  Then came an earlier glimmer of hope with the 99% movement when it seemed that a new coalition might emerge to address this inequity.  We all know the story — “in the 1970s, according to  Chrystia Freeland  (as reported by Margaret Wente), the top 1 per cent of the U.S. population controlled 10 per cent of the national income; today, they control 33 per cent”.  Out of this, and the orgy of greed that created the financial crisis of the 1990’s came a movement that brought this to our consciousness.  People took to the streets in a protest.  But it became more than just some radicals who resented the rich.  Warren Buffet, the second richest man in the world denounced tax policies that favour the “super rich”.   Top executives echoed his assessment.   We began to realize, as retired American Airlines CEO Bob Crandall said in an interview,  “Income inequality of the scale we have today is destroying our democracy”.

Then, it all just faded away.  By the end of this year, that coalition had fizzled and groups like the “99% movement”  had faded into obscurity.  As T.S. Elliot so aptly put it, “not with a bang, but a whimper”.

With it, goes the hope of the world.   Save the Children reports that in “1990, the vast majority – 93% – of people in poverty in the world lived in low-income countries. Today, despite the fact that inequalities between countries remain high more than 70% of the world’s poorest people – up to a billion – live in middle-income countries”.  If the world’s richest economies can’t lift their populations out of poverty, what hope is there for the rest?

Speaking of emerging economies, did  I mention climate change?  Nah.  I’d better not.  I’m Canadian – we have no right to talk to anyone about climate change.  We are still among the greatest consumers of carbon in the world.  Who are we to lecture the third world for trying to have we we have?  Nor for that matter can we lecture anyone about violence against violence against women.  If you consider the plight of our aboriginal women or our police advising women not to “dress like sluts” we are not above reproach ourselves.   Nor could we take moral high ground in the income inequality wars.  We have people in this country living in third world conditions – our dirty little secret.  We have families of working people who need food banks to feed their children.  We have children that go hungry to school.  We have gun violence in our cities.  We have nothing to be smug about.

I grew up in the sixties.  We stopped a war.  We talked about love.  We had concerts for Bangladesh.  We planted trees.  We read Silent Spring.  What happened to us?  How did we let this happen?

“Talking ’bout my generation”.  We will leave to our children a violent world where poverty abounds, a looming debt crisis, the threat of financial chaos and just for good measure — ecological disaster.   This is our legacy?  Maybe we should just “f..f… fade away”.

What better way to exit?  An apocalypse is brilliant.  It’s just the what the doctor ordered.  You can imagine how glad I was that, as predicted by the Mayan calendar,  the world as we know it officially ended on December 21st.

It was quite a civilized ending.  You have to admire the Mayans.   They do this end of days thing better than anyone I know.   There was no fire or brimstone raining down.  No global catastrophes.  In fact, if you were busy doing the run up to Christmas, you might have missed it unless, like me, you saved your shopping for the inevitable post-apocalypse sales.

On December 21, 2012, without fanfare, without crisis — the world just ended.

“How can this be?”  You might ask.

After all, the next day the sun still rose at all points in the globe.  Newspapers arrived on doorsteps with news of all the same problems as existed the day before.  People got up, got dressed and went to work.

Nothing was different.

Or was it?

I maintain something did happen.  In that one day, just for a minute or two, a lot of people all over the world, myself included,  reflected on a single fact.  We are not going to be here forever.  In that moment of enlightenment, comes the realization of what is truly the most valuable thing we have.

Time.

What is the one thing that you can never get more of?  It’s not money.  You can lose all your money and still get more.  It’s not friends – you can move to a new place and make new friends. It’s not even people you love.  We’ve all lost loved ones. But even in the sadness of loss, you can still love and be loved.

You can always get more of everything — with one exception.

Time.

When time is spent, it is lost forever.  When it has run out, it’s gone.  You cannot buy more, borrow more nor can you build more.   We only have so much time.  When it’s over, it’s over.

All of us have thought about this at one point.  When we see our children have grown we sense the passing of time.  When we feel those aches and pains that occur, as Leonard Cohen says, “in the places we used to play” we sense that our lives have limits.   When we realize that Mick Jagger is over 70 we know that, as George Harrison said, “all things must pass.”  Yes, we have thought about it.  In the end of the world, just for a few minutes, a lot of us thought about it at the same time.  All at once.

In that moment, something changed.  I felt it.

On the day the world ended, I was listening to CBC radio and they moved to a piece on “what would you do if this were your last day on earth?”   As I listened, I stopped to think about it myself.  What if this really was my last moment on earth?  Was I where I should be?  Was a doing what I should be doing?

It wasn’t just me.  It may sound crazy, but I knew I could feel others in the world thinking the same thing.  How many?  No idea.  I just know that I wasn’t the only one.  I know how it sounds.  But then again, at the end of the world, why on earth would what anybody else thought?

If it had been only that moment, it would have been an interesting novelty.  But it wasn’t.  At least not for me. For me, it was like pulling the stars into alignment, it was like connecting the dots – I felt everything fall into place in around a single question.   It’s not morbid or fearful.  It’s just a question — and it’s one that I’ve been asking more and more since the world ended.  If this were the end of the world would I spend my time any differently than I am doing this very moment?

Now, several times a day I catch myself asking this question. If this were the end of my time, what should I be doing?  A few days back, I wrote to a couple of people who I have been at odds with — family members.  I didn’t do it because I thought that it would change anything.  I did it because if it was the end of time,  would the spats that divided us really matter?

When I’m frustrated, when I’m impatient, when I’m doing whatever — I find myself repeating the question.  Would I spend my last hour doing this?

It’s not a resolution.  I distrust resolutions.  I’ve stopped making them.  They are broken as quickly as they are made.  I know all too well that if you want to make serious and lasting change, you don’t make it in the heat of emotion or in some brief moment of resolve.  Promises are easy to make.  Actions are difficult to sustain. It’s not a revelation — it’s a realization.  At the end of the world, all that matters is the next thing you do.

Am I in this moment all the time?  Of course not.  I confess that my past training has served me well.  I know that with any change comes failures, backsliding, and moments of doubt and weakness.  These are part of the process.  I know that with each moment where we find ourselves “off the chosen path” we have two choices.  We can feel shame and recrimination.  Or we can feel the joy of rediscovering our chosen path.  It’s a choice.

I hope in this Mayan moment, others are realizing this too.  If so, they too would see the “end of the world” as a gift.   They would witness the birth of a new world, one where we stand in wonder of the precious gift —  time.

How many others?  It doesn’t matter.   In unguarded moments, I wonder how many it would take to really change the world.  I  wonder if there is a tipping point — a place where hope finally cascades over violence and greed, where we build a lasting legacy for generations to come?  Then I let that thought go.  In the last minutes of recorded time, the number doesn’t matter.  The action I take next is all that matters.

Curiously, that doesn’t make it a solitary pursuit.  When I seen a knowing smile, or hear a kind word, or just see someone looking at the sky in wonder — I can choose to celebrate it.  Why not?  At the end of the world, who wouldn’t want to be with people who could embrace the beauty of it all and say, “thanks for the ride!  It was fabulous!”

Even  moments of sadness and grief — if it truly were the end of the world, why wouldn’t we spend that time  comforting those who needed it?  Could your last minutes be any more valuable than conveying a kind word or the touch of your hand?

Now, when I think back on the last year, I see the opportunity to witness it through the eyes of one who has seen the end of the world.   I  could celebrate the courage of a 15 year old girl.  I could share the sorrow of parents who have lost their children.  I could marvel at the courage of those who stand against injustice and oppression.   I could realize that at the end of the world its not whether they succeeded or failed — it’s that they are doing what they should do – without regard for what comes next.

I realize what a blessing it was.

It’s several days after the end of the world, and life couldn’t be better.  Even now, I take a moment to appreciate what’s around me. I think of anyone who might read this message and I smile.

It’s the end of the world, and I’m glad to have taken this time to have shared it with you.

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