Stories of the Apocalypse: Fall Back, Move Forward

Nov 29, 2012 by     3 Comments    Posted under: lit

It is Halloween and we are telling scary stories with a pumpkin flickering in front of us on the candlelit kitchen table.

“What scares you more than anything else in the world?” I ask with an orange face. “Doesn’t have to be Halloween-related.”

Our friends, Mauricio and Sabine, have joined my boyfriend Roberto and I for dinner and with splatters of the main course painting the empty plates beside us, we unpeel tiny chocolates and festively confess our deepest fears.

Skipping past the ghosts and vampires, we begin circling that which terrifies us most and our voices drop to whispers, as if not to awaken a sleeping monster. But it is not a monster we speak of, though at times it may seem to be, nor is it an enemy we can plot to escape–what scares us most of all isn’t a ghost story, it’s a true story and we are the protagonists. Our greatest fear, it turns out, is the planet.

At first the fears we trade are hypothetical horror stories–spooky stuff about finding ourselves adrift in the open ocean or floating aimlessly in outer space. Then we talk about the real life nightmares–staring down a tidal wave, standing atop a fissuring fault line, looking up into a landslide. Water shortages, collapsing infrastructures, war, poverty, suffering. We fear the planet and what it will do to us in Halloweens to come.

Now for the scariest story:

Some believe the Mayans foretold an end of days at the close of 2012. Since moving to Mexico three years ago, I have encountered dozens of interpretations of this prophecy in my hikes through the highlands of Chiapas: a Tzotzil woman once brewed me tea and told me that 2012 would signal the end of patriarchy and the dawn of a new world for women while an anthropologist from Mexico City explained over espresso that December simply marked the conclusion of a calendar cycle. Artists and visionaries see 2012 as a time of healing and transformation, doomsday soothsayers foresee death and violence.

And tonight, the four of us candlelight philosophers see all those things and more in the shadows before us. The world as we know it is coming to an end. The end of fresh water. The end of gas and oil. The end of glaciers and rainforests. The end of endlessness.

More than five hundred years have passed since European colonialism began to consume the Mayan territory that is now Roberto and my highland home. Those were the first days of the end times, not because someone etched them into a calendar (though that may very well be) but because in its quest for forward motion faster than the earth’s wisdom would allow, colonialism served as the fatal blow to humanity’s connection with the planet. We wanted to own the future, so we started with the soil, taking people as prisoners, making them slaves to “progress.” Knowing the earth held the answers, we raped her. We stole from her. We brutalized the planet, demanding she give us the way forward, and when she wouldn’t give us the answers we wanted, we tried to enslave her, too.

Centuries later, we live in plastic cities built on the ashes of our forgotten ancestors’ altars to the earth. We no longer listen to our battered planet, who has offered us her wisdom all along and now wails it to to us in the winds that blow down our houses and the rains that flood our streets. We look to computers to carry us onward and we are angry when the earth’s storms and sobs grow too loud for us to hear what our technology is telling us.

But the earth grows stronger, not weaker, the longer we submit her. And her cries are becoming impossible to ignore. She needs us to hear her.

We are afraid.

It truly is the end of days. Days of conquest. Days of plunder. Days of industry. The earth tried to warn us and we duct taped her mouth. But today, even our screens say so–the machines we trained to tell our fortunes give us stories of hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires. They say more are coming. But they can do nothing to help.

The only way forward is back.

In response to the commercialization of the “Doomsday myth,” the Mayan alliance Oxlajuj Ajpop released a statement last month explaining that 2012 marks the end of a cycle, not the planet: “There will be big changes on the personal, family, and community level, so that there is harmony and balance between humankind and nature.”

Our era of enslaving the earth is over. We must restore her, care for her, listen to her “so there is harmony and balance between humankind and nature,” as today’s Mayans tell us: living messengers of the centuries-old wisdom we have chosen to ignore. We called ourselves kings and tore the earth open, taking from her as if she were ours. We wanted her to live for us, not with us. We fear her because we do not know her.

Now we must return to her.

This story ends with a “To be continued…” The candles on the kitchen table have burnt down to their wicks. The four of us look around in the dark, covering our faces with shivering fingers. We will not write the ending to this tale.

The earth will.

It is we who must submit now and listen–really listen–to what she, our planet, has always been saying. The earth knows the way forward.

But first we must fall back.

Check out Rachael’s awesome website, RKA in LA.

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