I've noticed more of those "2012" bumper stickers around lately. At first I thought they were reminders, like the little signs posted at the supermarket checkout counters for dinosaurs like me who still write checks ("The year is 2012!"). But since we're more than a quarter of the way through the year, I guess the stickers are referring to the belief that the Mayan Calendar ends on Dec. 21, 2012, and, therefore, the world will, too. You might say we've literally run out of time.
But if you did say that, you'd be mistaken. The date does not mark the end of the calendar, but rather the end of a particular cycle (b'ak'tun) and the beginning of a new one. One b'ak'tun is a little less than 400 years. Twenty b'ak'tuns make one pictun. Twenty pictuns make a kalabtun, and there are more units beyond those. So if you want to base your end-of-world theories on the Mayan calendar, you've got about 63 million years to go.
I suppose people have been predicting the end of the world ever since The Beginning . . . whenever that was. From Armageddon to asteroids, nuclear warfare to natural disaster, dozens of theories exist, each with a dedicated following of true believers.
Born just before the start of the Cold War, my late husband grew up in the 1950s, fully expecting the U.S. and the USSR to destroy each other and the rest of the world. In his southeast Texas neck of the woods, many families built their own fallout shelters, and he and his elementary school classmates were issued metal ID tags, like military dog tags. Barry was a young adult by the time of the Cuban missile crisis; he often told me that the dramatic showdown solidified his belief that his generation would be the last to enjoy life on this planet. That's how he justified his reckless behavior in the '60s, and that's why he viewed every day after the age of 30 as a bonus.
I, on the other hand, was a child in 1962, blissfully unaware of the crisis. I do remember air raid drills at Makawao School. Upcountry district names were posted permanently above classroom doors: Haliimaile, Olinda, Kokomo, H'poko. . . . When the alarm sounded, we would leave our desks and, in a calm and orderly fashion, proceed to the classroom bearing the name of our community. There, in a real emergency, we would wait for our parents to pick us up. Getting there was the fun part. As we walked across the grass quadrangle, we listened for the teacher's whistle. One shrill blast sent us to the ground, face down with our hands covering our heads. Two short tweets meant we could get up and continue walking. If I moved slowly enough and took tiny steps, I could do the duck-and-cover thing at least three times.
Until Barry and I discussed it, the implications never registered with me. I remember lying on my stomach with my eyes closed, imagining myself in a foxhole with Vic Morrow. "Combat!" was one of my favorite TV shows, inspiring hours of playacting with my male cousins and dreams of scurrying through the rubble of World War II France. To me, the air raid drills were a school-sanctioned adventure game, much more interesting than the mundane fire drills.
Years later, when I was living on Oahu and working for KITV News, the Honolulu Advertiser printed a horrific map showing what would happen statewide in the event of a nuclear strike on Pearl Harbor. My apartment was in the "immediate vaporization" zone. My family and friends on Maui were even worse off, doomed to a relatively slow demise by fallout. The guys in the newsroom made uneasy jokes but I was depressed for days. Fortunately, my husband at the time, Kelly, took a healthier approach. He admonished me to accept the things I cannot change and he quoted one of his favorite singers, Peggy Lee.
. . . If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing.
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is.
Now, Peggy Lee didn't write those lyrics; Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller did. And Kelly, truth be told, was happy to break out the booze regardless of whether that's all there is. Or was. As for myself, I don't drink, but the spirit of the song spoke to me and stuck with me.
Since then, various friends have warned me of our impending demise by solar explosion, biological warfare, SARS, North Korea, rogue computers, etc. I appreciate their concern but I refuse to spend any more time or energy pondering the end of the world. Of course, on Dec. 21, 2012, I'll be out dancing. And having a ball. Just in case that's all there is.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.