Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 22, 2012

How I Survived the End of the World

First edition cover

First edition cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, we made it.

At least I did. And unless you are a ghost, so did you. We got through the purported end of the world, the last day on the ancient Mayan calendar. Ever since I saw the “Chariots of the Gods” ddocumentary film from back in the Seventies, I was looking with a combination of enthusiasm and dread toward yesterday as the probable Apocalypse.

I’m serious, in case you were wondering. As of Thursday, I thought it highly likely (say a 70% chance?) that I wouldn’t be around on Saturday to write this, to finish Christmas shopping,  or to do diddly. That’s how ridiculous I can be, when I DON’T set my mind to it. (Or when you let what an impressionable nine-year-old found fascinating dictate the choices or attitudes that an adult has for years to come. Sometimes one’s inner child is just gullible, right? Or maybe sometimes life is rough enough that one wouldn’t mind a complete “do over”.)

But no, this is the one world we were given…. guess I gotta deal with it, as is. There was no New Big Bang to be had, to let me off the hook in terms of running those nagging errands, losing weight, finding my purpose in life. No “War to End All Wars By Ending All Life As We Know It”. Not even an obvious Shot Heard Round the Universe to confirm we are on an inevitable track of any kind. I had envisioned some combination of

So how did I get through Friday. With little bit of prayer, a little creativity, and some plain old chillin’ out, not sweating whether I had made enough of my life or where I am going when this plane of existence is in my rear-view mirror.

It helped that I had work to focus on. I just finished my first official week as a teacher’s aide in a suburban Chicago K-8 school district, working with special needs kids.  So planning and executing the holiday party with the kids in my class (and some visiting friends from the Bilingual class) was my way of “whistling in the dark”. My class (where I am a 1:1 Aide for a boy with cerebral palsy) are six 5th graders with multiple disabilities, including cognitive limitations that indicate at least three of them might not be able to read or add basic figures even after reaching full maturity. These six kids have mostly been in class only with each other since kindergarten age. So they know each other better than any of the adults in the room (3 Aides – only one of whom was with these kids last year, an LPN nurse, a new lead teacher, and a private nurse for one student at least three days a week). But in this kind of context, the basic humanity of the kids, their individual personalities, still shines through loud and clear. And that means they can celebrate, make friends, learn important social cues, enjoy the taste of green frosting, and get excited about being able to toss a ping pong ball into a bucket… like any other ten-year-old. Human dignity and capacity for love are not a function of IQ. We all get our share, and then we’re supposed to keep giving it away. It’s enough to give an eccentric with depressive tendencies like me… dare I say it… hope?

After school, for my current second job as a medical courier, I carried blood from a doctor’s office to a high-end regional laboratory so their million-dollar machines could measure something and help a doctor help a patient live well into the next decade of this Brave New World. Even a mixup by one of the other drivers, late Friday commuter traffic, and gas prices climbing back up beyond $3.25 a gallon couldn’t dull my post-party good feelings.

Supper at home, a bit of tv, and then a decision to go out to a local sports bar I’ve been meaning to try, as the Bulls-Knicks game was on (surging Bulls beat the Knicks in NY). So off to the bar, where I was warmly greeted by two women walking in at the same time, one of whom took the time to actually read my “STOP Funding War” peacenik button… no comment, but at least she didn’t hit me or argue with me). I sat at the bar near the table where the women and their preteen kids were eating, not because I was intending to hit on the moms (I SOOO have forgotten how to be single), but because I was just feeling friendly, and who am I to refuse if one of THEM decides to hit on ME (provided she’s single, of course… and no, they didn’t hit on me, or not enough to write about… in fact, after about two years single now, I’m still waiting to meet one of these so-called wanton or lonely or desperate women over forty who supposedly throw themselves at men… maybe I’m giving off a vibe I can’t control, so they stay away?).

This seating choice did prove providential, though, because maybe twenty minutes later, as I was starting to consider going home out of sheer boredom, a guy came in and was even more warmly greeted by the two women than I had been. I figured they were all just “regulars” but then I looked more closely at the guy and realized I recognized him: it was Wil V., the younger brother of Raul, one of my best friends from about thirty years ago. So I waited for an opportune moment and reintroduced myself, slightly freaking him out. The women were kind of on their way out when Wil arrived, so their conversation was brief, leaving Wil and I plenty of time to catch up the rest of the night. And we have a lot in common, including fairly recent divorces, a penchant for unconventional philosophizing, a creative and dramatic instinct that won’t quit, and a taste for scotch (his tastes being more expensive than mine… having grown up a lot richer, and apparently staying that way despite some wandering into and out of several career paths… also like me, minus the earning, in my case). Plus he’s at a personal “in-between” kind of life space, living with his parents (like me), partly to help with his mother’s failing health issues and figure out what’s next, and/or where to re-plant himself. The kinds of questions that take months or years to settle… nice to encounter a fellow traveler on that pothole-covered low road, the service road that runs along the “fast lane” to middle-class success… and I can’t find an on-ramp for the life of me.

Later we both took to talking with a couple about our age at the bar– who may have been the “only other Democrats in DuPage County” besides me, according to Mike, the husband. An overstatement, but not  by much… one more way I feel like an alien among these strangers in what used to be my hometown. Meanwhile Wil knew the owner and also the manager at this place, so he got up several times to see some people (so yes, he’s a regular).

At about ten minutes to midnight, I pointed out that we had just ten minutes left to live. This brought a few laughs, and prompted Wil to buy me a scotch. I’d been drinking beer thus far. Wil said the night before he had invented The Jim Jones, a kool-aid based drink, as his nod to the end of the world. Said it stunk, though, so he didn’t order another on Friday. We didn’t do a countdown to Armageddon or anything, but at about 12:02 I raised a glass and said we apparently all had “made it through”, or else we had missed the Rapture and were doomed to this hellhole forever.

So… fellow denizens of Hell… how did you make it through the end of the world?


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