Welcome to the A is for Apocalypse blog train! You've just departed the Pete Aldin car, and I do hope you enjoyed your stay. The porter will be by in a moment to check your tickets, but in the meantime, why don't you settle in and let me spin you a tale or two?
When I was a little girl, I knew an older man named Brother Pope, who was kind to me and always had a pocket full of lemon drops. I called him 'brother' because we were both Jehovah's Witnesses, and I called everyone at the Kingdom Hall 'brother' or 'sister'. When I was four, Brother Pope died, and I smelled formaldehyde for the first time when I went to his open-casket funeral (to this day, the stuff makes me want to vomit). My mother took me up to see his body, and while I was standing on tip-toe, wondering why he stank so badly and where the life in him had gone, she leaned over and whispered, "Don't worry. He'll be back in the New Order." I knew this meant he would be physically resurrected after the Battle of Armageddon to live forever on a paradise Earth, or at least that's what my parents had taught me.
When I was five, some of the JWs began to believe that 1975 was a possible date for the beginning of the Great Tribulation, which would precipitate the Battle of Armageddon and the resurrection I wrote of above. There's some math involved here, but basically it goes like this. In Matthew 24:34, Jesus concludes a discussion of the apocalypse to come by saying, "Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things happen." The Governing Body of the Jehovah's Witnesses taught that the generation in question was comprised of people who were young adults during World War I, and these people were getting old, of course. So in 1974, many JWs - including my parents - made fiscally irresponsible decisions involving their credit, believing they would never have to honor their debts. But when the Great Tribulation did not begin in 1975 after all, they were forced, quite literally, to pay for what they had done.
Sometime in April of 1984, I don't remember the precise date, my paternal aunt and her husband sold all their belongings, locked themselves and my cousins in their home and waited for the end of days they were certain would come in the next twenty-four hours. It did not. They were a different variety of conservative Christian; even my parents thought they were crazy, and their tiny, Indiana church was the center of the universe to them. I was only fifteen at the time, so I couldn't grasp the depth of embarrassment and financial catastrophe they must have woken to the following morning. But even now I still think of them from time to time, unlocking that door and going back out into the world the following day.
A year later, I left home and the JWs to live with my maternal grandparents. My grandmother was a charismatic Christian as well, but she was less apocalyptic, though she wanted very much to save my soul. She gave me unprecedented freedom to finish growing up, however, and it was in those final years of my childhood that I abandoned the Bible in favor of Earth-based, Goddess spirituality. There, everything waxed and waned with the cycle of the seasons. There, winter was merely a time of rest before the lilacs bloomed again. It was hopeful, gentle and inclusive. It left no living being outside a locked door to suffer the wrath of God.
Now, thirty years on, I have a rueful fondness for all things apocalyptic, an irreverent, 'Woohoo! End of the world! Everybody stock up on peanut butter and blankets!' sort of attitude. Still, I often worry about industrial agriculture, GMO crops, neonicotinoids killing our bees, the problem of drilling for oil in the Arctic, the continuing leakage of irradiated water from Fukushima and all the rest. When I do, part of me wonders if Eliot was right; 'not with a bang but a whimper'.
But the rest of me is holding out for lilacs.
Thanks for stopping by! Remember to collect your coats and handbags. Up next you'll find the Simon Kewin car. Do tell him I said hello, won't you?