MAY 2011 IN

When You Feel Ready

As I write this, people are talking about a prediction of the end of the world that a prominent theological numerologist has issued. According to the prediction, the end-of-the-world sequence will begin in an obvious way on May 21, 2011, conveniently enough, a Saturday night.

On the one hand, people laugh off this kind of prediction because we have heard it so many times before. On the other hand, it is entertaining in a philosophical way to consider such a scenario. If you think about it carefully, you realize that it doesn’t particularly matter right now whether the world as we know it ends on Saturday night or not. It doesn’t affect what you need to do today. Supposing the end-of-the-world story turns out to be true, it doesn’t say that the people who drop everything and wait helplessly to be rescued are the ones who will fare the best.

Quite the contrary. Your best bet is to do what you can, whatever you know, to put yourself in a better position when Saturday night comes. And that is what you should do every day anyway.

If you think about it another way, the end of the world comes in miniature form every day with the end of the day, when the sun goes down and you wind down your activities and go to sleep if you can. You don’t really know what will happen tomorrow, so you do your best for today and hope that some of what you have done will still matter tomorrow.

Putting things off until tomorrow is a risky habit and an illusion. It is an illusion because it is based on the idea, the false idea, that tomorrow will be a continuation of today, when in reality, much of what tomorrow becomes is determined by what you do today. It is risky because tomorrows are never guaranteed. Even if you can resume your postponed work, you might find out that it is too late.

As a teenager I was involved in theater, and theater has a more concrete sense of time. Putting things off till tomorrow doesn’t exist. The audience files in and the show goes on. If the lights weren’t working and half the orchestra was missing, the show would still go on. In theater, it’s not about waiting until the day when you feel ready. You do whatever you can to be ready for show time, of course, but you do it in the time you have.

In the same way that show time is a fact of life in theater, the story of the end of the world could be constructive if it can help people break the automatic pattern of putting things off till next week — if it can help people take the passage more literally, and get them to stop putting things off as if time had no particular meaning. The end of the world may not be coming Saturday night, but time is going by. Threshold events, events that change everything, are on the way for most of us this year and next, and for all of us eventually. It matters what we are able to do before those events occur, and that means that it matters what we are able to do today.

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