Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Is it the end of the world as we know it -- or are we all just finally paying attention to the news?

Early this morning when I read about the 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, a terrible chill ran through my blood. Could it be true? Are we in the final days? Will 2012 really be the end of the line for all of us?

It was the second major earthquake to shake the area in five months. (Interestingly, when the first one hit on September 4, I was in Australia, where I will be returning in eight days. Fortunately for my sense of safety, Australia falls outside of the Pacific Ocean's earthquake-prone Ring of Fire.) Add to that recent devastating tremors in Chile; terrible fires last summer in Melbourne, Australia, flooding this summer in the east, and cyclones to the north; winter snow all over the U.S. and Europe, and the forecast begins to look dark and dreary indeed. If the weather is the gauge that we should use to approximate the coordinates of The End, then she would indeed seem to be upon us.

Last night I had a crazy dream. Meteorologists were predicting the worst winter of all time. (I'm blurry on whether I was receiving this news in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, or the time of year.) There would be snow covering the entire globe, and travel to parts as close as next door would be tricky. Everyone was panicking. The New Ice Age was upon us.

And then I woke up. After giving the situation on Mother Earth some thought, I've calmed down considerably. While I don't have any data on the occurrence of earthquakes or natural disasters in 2011 or 2010 versus other previous years, I do know that although it seems like the earth is being battered more than usual, it's actually been taking a serious licking for centuries. That Big Bang must have put anything that's happening now to shame!

I spent my entire youth in Florida worried about the next big hurricane. I heard about typhoons and tsunamis in Asia, volcanoes, earthquakes and all kinds of natural disasters. All that stuff is nothing new. What's changed has been the dissemination of information. With the Internet, 24-hour news channels, Facebook, Twitter, iPhones, iPads and other 21st-century concoctions all bombarding us with news, keeping us plugged in all day every day, few things pass us by. If Lindsay Lohan sneezes, we know about it. And if the earth moves, too.

It's not just that we are more likely than ever to hear about every single natural disaster. Crazy weather or a geographical disturbance someplace on the other side of the globe seem so much closer now, not because the world has shrunk, but because modern technology makes it seem so much smaller.

Now when I read about a strong wind in Asia, it might as well be blowing at my back door. Imagine if September 11 happened today. Or Columbine. Or the Oklahoma City bombing. They'd seem so much worse, so much more loaded with foreboding, than they did then.

I'm not saying that Armageddon isn't upon us. Only the Anti-Christ, whoever she is, knows for sure. But don't pack it in and stop planning for life beyond next year just yet. It'll likely come, and when it arrives, you won't want to find yourself locked in the mental -- or physical -- equivalent of a bomb shelter. It's dark in there, and the Wi-Fi connection would probably suck.

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