The Oakland Hills Fire which broke out in October, 1991, was a major disaster by any estimate: 25 people died, 150 suffered injuries, and 3300 homes were destroyed. What I remember about the event, however, was an account by an independent journalist (whose name I have forgotten) who covered people arriving at evacuation shelters.
He said that a few were upbeat, almost giddy, as they talked of starting over. The journalist said they were the first to be taken to counselors. On-scene mental health triage workers assumed they were hysterical, most in need of hearing how terrible it was that they had lost everything. How sad you must feel. Have a kleenex.
I’ve always wondered about that.
The first historical accounts I know of that detail people waiting for the apocalypse date from December, 999, when groups across Europe trekked to high ground to wait for the millennial rapture. The name, “rapture,” says it all. It’s not the kind of disaster you read about in the papers. It’s a chance to start over for true believers. This is the hope picked up by new age proponents of the Mayan apocalypse, since the Mayans themselves left no hints of when the world will end.
The apocalyptic dream is the hope for a new heaven and earth that are better than this one. Who wouldn’t like one of those, especially this year?
All the worlds religions tell us this world is not our home, but the mature voices in those religions do not hold out the hope of a cosmic get-out-of-jail-free card reserved for some chosen group. They tell us that heaven and earth are transformed when an individual turns transformation. Like Dante at 33, understanding he’d lost his way in a dark wood. Like Rainer Maria Rilke who was viewing an ancient statue of Apollo when he heard an inner voice say, “here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life.”
So tomorrow when we wake and the world looks the same, we can remember that it is not. The sun will have turned from it’s southern trajectory, beginning its road back to summer. And as we savor the morning coffee and the good things in our lives, we can take a moment to contemplate that turn toward a new heaven and earth. The first steps lie with each and every one of us.