The world is coming to an end. The latest doomsayers seem to be latching on the end of the Mayan calendar, due to wrap things up world-wise right before Christmas, 2012. I guess I’d be less lackadaisical about it if I hadn’t dealt with the end of the world already. I remember watching The Late Great Planet Earth when I was a kid. Prophesy foretold how the United States and the Soviet Union were going to nuke themselves out of existence. It seems to me that was supposed to happen in the 1980’s. That makes sense; the Soviet Union went the way of the Studebaker in 1989.
I was at George Williams College in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, on March 10, 1982. You may remember that was the day almost all of the planets (including Pluto, which was a planet back then) were on the same side of the sun. The massive gravitational tug was due to tear the world apart in vast tidal forces; set off gigantic earthquakes at the very least. My sixth grade class was spending a few days up at the school studying nature and generally freezing in the waist deep snow. Waking up that morning, I looked around at the cold, drab dorm room and down at my friend Greg who was sleeping on the bunk beneath me.
“Still here,” I said.
“Still here,” he replied.
The Church of the Livingstone and Mission for the Coming Days sent out a press release the world was due to end on October 28, 1992, at midnight, Korean time. I was the anchor at a radio station at the time and figured impending doom was probably newsworthy. We stayed on the air an extra five minutes or so and counted down the last few moments to… nothing. The world was still around at 12:01, Korean time, but we played R.E.M. anyway.
I was a database administrator in 1999. In the spring we discovered our old mainframe system from the 1970’s was not Y2K compliant. My co-worker and I began the archaeological dig for ways to get the data out along with the programming. The original writer of the system had died, but his widow still had boxes of code (on paper) out in their garage. We slowly translated the VAX BASIC from crumbling yellowed sheets of fanfold paper through the summer and fall. It was like reading something in Latin; close, but not quite what we were used to. We rewrote the system in Access VBA and imported twenty years of data. The project wrapped up around 2:00 in the afternoon on December 31, 1999. I stopped at Sam’s Club on the way home. Last minute survivalists were waiting in line with pallet jacks loaded with boxes of food and water. One woman had a crate of AA batteries for some reason. My favorite guy though was the one who just piled his cart high with beer.
Actually, our system did crash that night. However, in the wake of Y2K, people seemed to forget that Windows would occasionally crash even when it wasn’t the end of the world.
I don’t doubt the world is going to end… eventually. My belief is the sun is going to use up most of its hydrogen fuel and swell to enormous size. As it does, the Earth will be swallowed up. The sun will eventually die as well, growing dimmer and dimmer until all that’s left is a cosmic charcoal briquette. As the universe continues to expand and cool, even the atoms that once made us up – that “star stuff” Carl Sagan always talked about – will fall apart into a thin soup of decaying particles. The universe will be cold, dark and still.