It’s the End of the World As We Know It, and (so far) I Feel Fine

August 19, 2010

Every so often, propelled by a vast and unknowable ethereal algorithm, some evangelist (usually from the US south, usually male) with a self-professed direct line to God predicts the end of the world as we know it: the Rapture, when all true believers will ascend en masse, leaving the world to its own devices, with only a population of rationalists, scientists, engineers, mathematicians, rock musicians, Liberals, Wiccans, and other such heretics to run things back here on Terra. Oh, and lawyers and accountants. Surely there cannot be too many of them bound skyward. And, when one of these predictions occurs, here is something that can be counted upon: the news will be trumpeted from the front page of the Nashville Tennessean. Not one of those small 2” blurbs below the fold, like a filler story about a bus plunge in Peru, but a full-on above-the-fold page-wide headline. Other newspapers will feature articles like “Amish Seclusion Shattered by School Slayings,” or “Solons Question Gun Ban” (headlines may be the only places left on earth where you can routinely read the words “slayings” or “solons”), but count on the Tennessean for up-to-the-minute reportage on predictions of the Rapture.

One such occurrence took place in September of 1988, at which time I was working in Nashville for a giant national insurance conglomerate (known to its employees back in the day as “Called In, Got No Answer”, I can’t imagine why). Anyway, during my period of indenturement, a former NASA engineer, one Edgar Whisenant, predicted confidently that the Rapture would occur at such-and-such a time, which, to the best of my memory, was around 8:30am on a weekday. I arrived to work a bit late that day, and when I got to the office, I discovered that I had missed the beginning of a department-wide meeting which I had no desire to attend in the first place, so I simply went into my office and began catching up on some busywork. The whole floor was quiet as a morgue, and I could devote my full attention to the matters at hand without bother or interruption. And then I heard a rustling noise outside my door, so I got up to have a look and see what was causing it. I spied a co-worker, one of the data entry folks, an attractive young woman named Lauren, rustling through some papers on her desk. “Hey Lauren,” I called out from my office door. She looked up at me and broke out into tears. Not the dramatic bawling boo-hoo kind, but the quiet “just lost my best friend” variety. “Whoa,” I said, taken aback. “What’s up?”

“I just got up here, and everyone was gone, and I thought the Rapture had happened without me,” she said, evidently referring to Mr. Whisenant’s prediction, and as serious as could be. “Well,” I said consolingly, “if it did, I didn’t get to go either.” The prospect of the two of us being the final remaining people in the world appealed to me at least as much as it horrified her; nonetheless, I took the high road and explained to her that everyone had been called into a meeting, one ordained by a higher power within the company, to be sure, but not a Higher Power in the grand scheme of things. Lauren was visibly relieved, although whether it was on account of not missing the Rapture or not having to spend the rest of her days with me, I couldn’t say.

I thought about writing up the experience and submitting it to the Tennessean, but after due consideration, vetoed the notion. I guess I’m just not that much of a front page kind of guy.