Apocalypse: Death by appointment

Next Friday will come and go, and the world will still be here. Even with another blown prediction, we Americans love apocalypse.

I grew up believing we’d nuke ourselves to death, or overpopulation would make us resort to cannibalism, or chimps would do us in. Perhaps computers would cause our doom either by being too smart or too dumb. And if these didn’t do the job, we have asteroids, rogue planets (the best choice for those who like seeing Kirsten Dunst naked), and zombies, zombies, zombies.

Why do we want to see the world end? There are some great theories about this, including my favorite from Tom Lehrer. I see another reason: apocalypse would enable us to die by appointment.

The problem with death (besides the death part) is that we have no control over it. We know it will happen, and we may have beliefs about what happens afterwards, but we don’t know the when, where, and how. We know that we don’t want to die the way most Americans do — alone in a hospital plugged into tubes and monitors while being watched over by doctors who secretly hope we hurry up so they can give our bed to someone who has better health insurance.

If we knew when we were going to die, we could plan for it. We could do all the things we love to do. We could stop worrying about what we eat and drink. On the day of, we could gather our friends and family and share the experience together with the people we love. Death would be something meaningful instead of some random incident. That may be a reason why we would want to know humanity’s expiration date. That knowledge would give us control over death.

But we can’t control death, because we can’t control life.

You can spend years writing a novel, and no one buys it. You can devote years building a business, and it goes bankrupt. You can try to instill positive values in your children, and they still make unwise choices. You can’t control other people, and you can’t control circumstances. Your best effort doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the outcome you want. You can’t control the uncontrollable.

All we can do is to look for what we can control — even if it is only our attitude or whatever choices we’re able to make. It’s a start, and it enables us to find other areas we can control.

We know the end is coming for us, whether it is in some global apocalypse or by passing quietly in our sleep. Since we cannot control the manner of our death, we should focus on improving the quality of our life. Since we don’t know when it will happen, we should make the most of whatever time we have. We shouldn’t wait until we approach the end to go through our “bucket list.” We should do the things that have meaning for us while we still have the ability to do and enjoy them.

A benefit of apocalypse is that it can motivate us to make the most of our lives. We shouldn’t look for an end, but look for opportunities to spark new beginnings. So when climate change, a genetically engineered pandemic, or gray goo comes to get us, we’ll be ready.