By PAT WATSON
Were you among those anticipating, on May 21, the end of life on Earth as we know it? The marching list of events and hurts that comprise human existence would be reason enough for many to hope for Judgment Day.
We share a life where there is enough of everything for every living being on the planet yet lack of compassion has such strong sway that there are people who will die today of starvation, lack of clean water, or simple medical treatment.
For all that can be done with money, more of it is spent worldwide on weaponry for destroying human life than is spent on health, education or rehabilitating the natural environment.
So yes, we may chuckle at the people who sold their homes and quit their jobs or drove long distances to particular sites so that they could be prepared for the Judgment and the predicted Rapture, but it is also fair to understand the bases for such actions.
Pioneering psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud presented a theory of the death drive, sometimes called the death wish, a counteraction to the drive to live and all that entails. It is not hard to find evidence of the drive to take oneself or another out of this life. We have enough words to cover these actions, beginning with war and genocide, which is large-scale human destruction. Then there are all the other types of ‘-cides': suicide, homicide, fratricide, parricide, and so on.
What makes this tension between wanting to stay alive and the waking awareness of the inevitability of one’s final day so contradictory is that most of us are guilty of living as if we have unlimited time on Earth, as if we may never die.
People who are privileged to live the Biblical three-score-and-ten-year life cycle have the time to resolve this path of nature and, fascinatingly, any very young persons who are aware that they are dying will present a kind of grace that always seems to exceed their years while making every effort to live each day to the fullest – as if it were their last.
Facing one’s mortality is usually a process reconciled over time. But the world as we have it can be an unjust and chaotic place, especially for those who live in want of basic needs. It is understandable that they would want to find a way out that promises a better existence. Even those who have acquired all that we are supposed to have as signifiers of success feel the emptiness that comes from trying to find happiness in doing and acquiring. When none of that succeeds in giving that feeling of bliss then for some there seems to be no other answer than to escape the planet – sometimes through drugs and alcohol, credit card shopping, gambling or anticipation of Judgment Day.
But recall the tragedy of the mass suicide of close to 1000 that took place in Jonestown, Guyana in November 1978 after hundreds had gone into the wilds of Guyana to create their own paradise. Then there was the Heaven’s Gate group in Southern California that in March 1997 took poison en masse so that they could shed their ‘earthly vehicles’ and latch onto the spaceship that was purportedly hidden inside Comet Hale-Bopp. All this to escape the hardship of life on Earth.
It is understandable that if we focus on all the troubles of the world that we would want to escape it. But this is really the challenge we face as we try to navigate our life’s journey and to make sense of the world in which we live.
The answer is simple. But not easy. It comes with a commitment to fix our attention in the present and to contribute each day to the betterment of life for our fellow human beings. People who make that their daily focus are more than merely tolerant of life on Earth. Of course, that will not stop the compulsive focus on trying to name a date when we will all become non-entities in one huge cataclysmic moment.
A note on coincidence…
One has to wonder if the people of Joplin, Missouri felt that the May 21 Judgment Day prediction wasn’t hitting them, albeit a day later on May 22, when a tornado devastated the U.S. town flattening buildings and taking close to 90 lives. And what can be said for the people who lost everything in Slave Lake, Alberta?