Visions of the Apocalypse

I have, for many years now, frequently found myself held rapt by unexpected visions of the apocalypse. Upon a rooftop bar, for example, I will be admiring the skyline and then suddenly see it burst into flame. The shock wave of a bomb might, in the right sunlight, shatter the windows of the room in which I am sitting. Or, perhaps, I will be watching the birds skim across the sparkling surface of the gulf, only to see it swell into a massive wave that crashes into the shore, obliterating everything. I assume this kind of thing is not all that uncommon. But what I think is remarkable in my case is the context of these visions: they are all joyful. They are peopled by crowds not fleeing in terror but celebrating. Singing, dancing, laughing in the face of doom as it washes them away. Defiant, delirious, and most importantly, transcendent.

These visions likely have their roots in my experiences during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, when, in the midst of what really was in most senses an apocalypse, we would sing and dance and drink and laugh all night because we were still alive and still in New Orleans. So for the longest time, I was convinced that maybe my visions were a product my mind having taken these memories, and, logically following the thread they trace through everything else, extrapolating them to some bleak, almost inevitable future, when perhaps the only option left was to laugh at our folly as we all perished. But recently, having watching the people around me wring their hands and declare the imminent apocalypse at every little twitch of history, I have come to realize that these visions are not prophecies of some dark future, but metaphors of our consistently unremarkable present. The world ends every day. With every choice we make, we teeter along the border of annihilation.

Hollywood has ruined the apocalypse: it is not some series of spectacular explosions, there are no heroes and villains, there is no great drama playing out that we do not, very nearly consciously, elect to perpetuate. Every day we choose whether or not to continue the world. Cities are destroyed by hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, and we rebuild them. People die, we raise our children. Sadness and suffering inhabit every corner of the earth, but we make music about it, we cook food, we laugh and tell stories and love one another.

Thermodynamics tells us that the tendency toward deterioration, entropy, is the natural direction of things, and yet we have been building out our perversely complex order for millennia. How do we account for this? How do we, a species who across all of time has winced readily at the doom hiding in every circumstance both calculated and unforeseen, manage to create an existence which has lasted more than just a single, fear-addled generation? My guess: compassion. It seems to me that as long as we remember that we are not alone, we believe on some level that this frantic laughter in the face of certain destruction is worth it for each other.

If we could only get everyone to admit that we are all “each other,” we could celebrate with any doom that chose to threaten, and grow stronger with its every failure to defeat us.