Only eight hours till midnight, and I’m optimistic about surviving December 21st, despite what the Mayan calendar allegedly said. I already celebrated by nuking and devouring a Kashi Mayan Harvest Bake for lunch – my second-favorite frozen entrée, a vegan mélange of healthy stuff like plantains, beans and amaranth that weighs in at just 340 calories.*
But walking my dog Sirius this morning, I thought maybe the Mayans were right. Mother Gaia was whipping up gale-force winds that sounded like jet planes or freight trains.** Perfect weather for falling trees, and my neighborhood has dozens of enormous pines, oaks and maples. Normally I’d have been sensibly hunkered down indoors, but Sirius wasn’t about to be denied his morning peeing and pooping.
In the course of our walk, I realized two things: I could quite easily be killed by a falling tree limb, and I wasn’t yet ready to die. Sirius, my chow-Aussie mix, had no such concerns. At first he was a little unnerved by the force of the wind, which was blowing his ears and his long black hair straight back, but he soon adapted, and he would have been content to putter around indefinitely, marking his territory and looking for the perfect spot to poop. He couldn’t understand why I cut our walk so short.
It’s often said that humans are the only animals with the foresight to fear death. I don’t entirely believe it, but the way Mother Nature was showing her fury on the very morning of what was predicted to be the End of Times got me thinking about death and how we deny or come to terms with it. The subject is far too vast for a single blog post, but here are a few of my personal observations.
I can’t remember exactly when I first understood the reality of death, but two childhood memories come to mind. I recall lapsing into hysterical giggles when I attended my grandfather’s funeral and saw him laid out in his coffin. That was the first time I’d seen a dead body, and my laughter was undoubtedly a nervous reaction. And I recall the many civil defense drills of my elementary school years, when we were led to believe that crouching under our desks would somehow protect us from a nuclear holocaust.
Like millions who grew up during the dawn of the nuclear age, I never expected to reach the age of 30. As a student at Barnard in the early 1960’s, I was amazed when I read of plans for a World’s Fair in New York City in 1964. How could people possibly plan that far ahead, when it was a virtual certainty the human race would have annihilated itself by then? And I vividly recall the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when the United States and Russia came perilously close to launching the nuclear missiles that would destroy us all. As the days dragged on, I begged the boyfriend who would later become my first husband to marry me before it was too late. I was far from virginal, but the sanctity of marriage seemed somehow significant in the face of annihilation.
Gradually as the years went by and the apocalyptic big bang didn’t happen, the fear lost its intensity, and it became possible to imagine a longer lifespan, and even the possibility of bringing children into the world. But I wonder how much of the hedonism of the Sixties – in which I reveled to the fullest – had to do with the sheer relief of having survived well into the atomic age, and the determination to make the most of whatever time remained?
There’s so much more to say, but it’s almost 5:30, and I need to get ready for an end-of-the-world party. These same friends, Tom and Meredith Mercer, gave a Millennium party on New Year’s Eve in 1999, another night when many believed something dire would occur, and here we are an amazing thirteen years later. That night I created a decorative platter with an intricate mandala design of meats, cheese and veggies.
This year I wanted to make something comparable, but it’s going to be a little simpler and a lot sweeter. This afternoon I bought a big plain New York-style cheese cake, and I’m going to spread ready-made Betty Crocker chocolate frosting on top, then draw a Mayan calendar-style design with pink and green decorative frosting. Hey, don’t knock it – that’s all they had at Walmart.
And now I’m off to look up some designs and practice a bit before I decorate the cake. I’ll try out the different frosting tips on bread, and I’ll get to eat the rejects – yum! First, though, I’ll fortify myself with eggnog, heavy on the brandy. Here’s to the dawning of a wonderful New Age!
*By far my favorite frozen entrée is Palermo’s Thin Crust Supreme Pizza. It comes from Milwaukee, my home town, and I lower the calorie count by feeding lots of the crust to my dog Sirius.
**Later, driving to my Nia class at the Y, I did in fact encounter roads closed by fallen trees, and I learned on the afternoon news that our little Rensselaer County town had the highest wind gusts in the area, upwards of 75 mph.