If the end were near, what would you do?
As part of our coverage of the film, "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World," we asked sources in our Public Insight Network to suggest reasons for popular culture's fascination with doomsday scenarios. We also asked what they would do if they knew their time was short. This commentary is adapted from some of their responses.
We human beings, like all other animals, are mortal. We may be exceptional in that we are (more) conscious and self-conscious than other animals, but first and last, we are animals. We are born. We live. We die. As conscious animals, we are capable of great feats. We are also, so far as we know, the only animal capable of self-deception, denial, illusion and species suicide. The fact of death looms over life for each of us existentially and for the species itself.
I'd do what I'm doing now, only more consciously. I'd continue to write each morning. I'd do my best to live gratefully, attending to beauty in nature and in art and to family and friends. I'd pray more thoughtfully. I'd walk my dogs more joyfully, stop yelling at them for barking, and find a place on the North Shore to look out to the horizon of Lake Superior. I would avoid Brussels sprouts. I'd end each meal with a Maine blueberry pie, flan, or Greeter's ice cream, and a Makers Mark Manhattan. Then I'd settle down by a good fire on the couch next to the love of my life, Kay, turn off the news, get rooted again in the Sermon on the Mount, and return to sources of joy and laughter in the poems of Hafiz. I'd live in the moment. -- Gordon C. Stewart, pastor and writer
Humans are always interested in obliquely approaching that which terrifies them the most. The "Godzilla" movies, featuring rampaging giant lizards destroying whole cities, were made in Japan in the aftermath of the nuclear horrors experienced there. In today's world, there is a palpable sense that the planet is running out of gas, literally and figuratively, that the party is over, that the human race is at the end of its rope.
Past girlfriends and an 11-year marriage notwithstanding, I would tell my coworker that she is the only woman I have ever loved. -- Whitney Strus, banker
The end of the world is not an historical event. The end of the world is a personal event. Steve Jobs had an end of the world. Eight billion dollars is not enough to prevent an end of the world. We are all going to die. We will all have to face this. The personal end of the world is guaranteed and the only thing all people have in common.
I had to face the end of the world, when I had cancer. I bought a motorcycle, took a trip around the world, and built an off-the-grid retreat near the Canadian border. I hugged my children, cried and felt the feeling of being fully alive. -- Jack Goldman, writer and former teacher
People love drama, and the end of the world is as dramatic as it gets, so of course it's a popular topic. For those of a religious persuasion, thinking about the end of the world brings a fantasy that all of their religious beliefs will be justified and brought to a predestined, dramatic conclusion. Pure mind candy.
If I knew I had three weeks, I'd quit my job and try to hang out with the people who mean the most to me, my friends and family. But has anyone considered that everyone on the planet would be doing that very same thing? This would leave precisely no one to provide any basic services. No gasoline, no electricity, no food, and no cell phone service for three whole weeks. Would you want to spend three weeks in a world where anyone could commit any crime they wanted and get away with it? My prediction is that by Week Three things would be so bad, I'd be cheering for the meteor. -- S. Christiansen