Commentary: The 'end of the world' beliefs have sequels, which is a good thing

Well, folks, we've done it. Fourteen days have passed since the world was supposed to end, and it just didn't happen. Glory be to the Mayan civilization that set us up, but, hey, it wasn't their fault if we missed the fact that all calendars come to an end — and then start up again. You know, like a second past every Dec. 31 midnight becomes Jan. 1.

So much for the word that the world would cease to exist on Dec. 21, 2012. I got confused because I kept hearing people tell us to buy, buy, buy for the holidays, as if the devil was on our tails. I wondered why we were talking about the future when the future was supposed to be past.

Fueled by media and pushed on the Internet, we learned that some mathematically astute ancient Mayans made a calendar with an end-date of 12/21/12. For sure, there are other calendars out there, but in the West, we love to romanticize ancient peoples, but seriously, folks, the Mayans had issues, too. Despite their intelligence and talents, most seem to have disappeared. Was that due to carelessness (overpopulation); droughts (can't control the weather); killing each other; maiden sacrifices?

Anyway, hieroglyphics were found in an ancient Mayan monument in Tortuguero, Mexico, indicating that 12/21/12 would see us all gone.

The keeper of our solar system, NASA, did say that those who believe that the end of days are near are misinformed, and that the story started with claims that a fictitious planet, Nibiru, supposedly discovered by the Sumerians, was headed toward Earth. "This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012 and linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar at the winter solstice in 2012 — hence the predicted doomsday date of Dec. 21, 2012," NASA said. "There is no credible evidence for any of the assertions made in support of unusual events taking place in December 2012."

I got smarter in 2003, waiting for the world to end, than I was as a kid in Baltimore when, rumor had it, the world would end on a Saturday in July. Six neighborhood boys and I gathered on Neal Butler's front steps, which was across the street from Harlem Park, to await the meteor that would smash us to smithereens — after we finished our chores, of course. We even gave up our weekend jaunt to the movies, missing the "Flash Gordon" serial of the week.

We met around 1 o'clock, excited by the prospect of seeing the meteor, knowing that, at ages 8 through 12, we would be the last people on Earth. We saw ourselves making our way through the rubble, minding that the glass would not get into the boys' high-top sneakers and my Mary Janes with the little girl socks. We were survivors, contemplating how we would have to live on mice and rats, but not dogs and cats, because we liked them.

We would be like Tarzan and Jane — me, being Jane, since I was very nearly the only girl in the neighborhood and the best alley jumper around. I could beat the boys.

Around 5 o'clock, Billy Ross' mother called from her window and told him to come in for supper. Billy told her he couldn't because he was waiting for the world to end. Mrs. Ross told him that she didn't think it was going to happen that day, so come on in and eat. Billy left.

Around 6, Alfred said he was going in but would come back later. He didn't. Then Neal went in. But my brother and I stayed, waiting because we knew exactly where the meteor was going to fall in the park.

Happy New Year.

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