So the world did end after all.
That was that, irrevocably concluded.
Despite proclamations and predictions to that effect since time began, it was inconceivable to most people that one day, time would also end. It was not something humanity had concerned itself with in recent years, except in the world of film production and sections of literary fiction, where in contrast the end of the world had been a recurrent theme.
But who among us can say that the gravity of the concept had not crossed their minds at one time or another? Who had not, now and then, heard evangelists and pessimist's prophesise it? And who had not, in moments of uncertainty, felt that these people might one-day be proved right? Possibly during the cold war, maybe in the run up to the millennium, or perhaps solely as a consequence of the general capriciousness and lack of meaning.
And yet, nobody ever really believed it. Neither could anybody, in reality, possibly imagine it.
Well, it did drag on so long. Maybe a thousand years really is like a single day to the gods. It took a thousand years for humanity to get used to the idea that the end of the world was at hand, and when we finally got used to the idea, it took us another thousand years to suppress it. The first millennium progressed with prophecies and predictions of the world's imminent demise. And when the end of the world finally came to pass as was foretold, the final day stretched itself over a further thousands years. That was the second millennium.
There was earthquake and famine, brother fought brother, families broke apart, nations rose against other nations and the air was heavy with the clamour of battle and rumours of war. The sun was eclipsed and the heaven departed as a scroll being rolled together, mountains and islands were moved out of their places. And there was wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Exactly as had been predicted. But it had not been easy to take seriously, back then. Humanity had, despite everything, experienced war and catastrophe since the beginning, nothing new in that respect for millennia. Nevertheless, in the second millennium events took an altogether different course
That nations rose against other nations, for freedom, for land or for power, had always been an aspect of human history – for better or for worse – but in the second millennium, people sought the annihilation of their fellow humans solely because of their religion, their creed and their ancestry. It had scarcely been seen before. And never on the same scale as in this millennium, which had invented the Crusades, the Inquisition, religious wars and incarceration.
The world had assumed a new form in the second millennium. And wrath and rage had assumed a new form – in the final hundred years of the final millennium it had reached boiling point.
Humanity had experienced war, famine and earthquake in every century, but nevertheless, in the twentieth century, events took an altogether different course. There were the millions of civilians who had been carpet-bombed, billions who starved, and the world itself, which shook. It had never been seen before on the same scale as in this century, which had invented world war, the holocaust, the hydrogen bomb and the prefrontal lobotomy.
Capital and career outpaced culture and caring. Children were brought up in institutions, the elderly hidden away in institutions and the suicidal locked away in institutions – for part or all of the day, part or all of the year and part or all of their lives. Nevertheless, there was surprise and astonishment, when every now and then, frustration and desperation was played out on the streets, as there was applause and approval when the powers that be deployed an armed force against their own citizens. Paving stones and petrol bombs against body armour, batons and bullets.
The Kingdom of Heaven had once again been bundled away and lost in the scrolls of Christianity, which enticed with an eternal rapture and bliss towards the world's expected end. When the day of wrath came and went in the second millennium, it was the only one of Christianities promises which had been fulfilled.
Apocalyptical bloodbaths in the trenches of the First World War and the pulverised cities of the second. Atom bombs and cluster bombs napalm and cruise missiles, over Dresden, over Hiroshima, over Vietnam, over Baghdad, over Belgrade. The starvation and exploitation of continents, mountains of fall-out, leakage and rubbish. Hitler and Stalin, Auschwitz and Gulag. The terror of millions and the multitudes of systematically slain.
So the world did end after all.
The great religion's shipwrecked, ideologies unravelling, cultural collapse. The agony was simply prolonged over the course of a millennium. Such was the coming and going of the final day, without the scream of sirens, minus the gridlock and without the nation experiencing as much as a momentary power failure. It didn't even merit an extra news bulletin or a headline in the morning newspapers, nor did any leader of state give it as much as a passing mention in a new year's speech.
It took a thousand years for humanity to get used to the idea that the end of the world was at hand, and when we finally got used to the idea, it took us another thousand years to suppress it. We have accustomed ourselves to life in a rotting carcass, to savour the putrefaction as a privilege, the apathy as entertainment. It is hardly surprising that it will take, yet another while, for the most of us to realise that the end of the world has passed us bye.
So far the obituary.
The stench of decay still poisons the air, and only time can tell how long it will take for the next millennium, to digest and egest, the viscous scatological leavings of the last.
Only time can tell if new life again will germinate from the ashes, when this erstwhile world and the foregoing millennium have finally run their course. Only time can tell, when the time will come, when enough people again will shout: enough! And with penetrating enthusiasm cast away this necroctic callous capitalism and irresistibly reclaim humanism.
It's not the quietest of times that lies ahead of us.
Happy New Year!
Published in Faklen (The Torch), 1999
Translated by Anthony Kiely