Where Were You When the World Ended?

©Copyright 2003 by Dr. Strange. All Rights Reserved

The other night, while sipping a brain food smoothie and watching stereoscopic TV pictures from the surface of Mars on CNN, I had a sudden realization. It wasn’t at first exactly a thought, more like a sensation so intense I thought I’d swallowed a block of smoothie ice and my brain had frozen. Desperately, I groped for the image behind the sensation.
What I came up with was an old illustration in a science fiction magazine: Ray Bradbury’s ethereal Martians windsurfing on the salt lakes of old Mars. And then it really hit me. I was living in the future…
I was nine when I read that story, back in 1961. Back then the future was a strange place of plastic and chrome where hero/engineers flew across the system on a whim and Earth was a paradise of science and technology. Back in the early 60s it wasn’t hard to believe that by the 21st century all of that would in fact come to pass. I would grow up to inhabit that future, with all its shiny promise.
So it was with a mind freezing shock that I realized that I had grown up to inhabit the future. I was watching TV from Mars, and while earth is hardly a paradise, the advance of science and technology has irretrievably changed the planet, and all life on it. It was, in sober fact, the 21st century and mankind was moving, inexorably, toward a manifest destiny of some kind…
When did it happen? When did the old world of the past end and the new worlds of the future begin? Had I, and all of us, somehow missed the end of the world? What did the future look like when events had caught up with prognostication? Are we really at the end of history, or even of time itself?
Or are we just windsurfing Martians in someone else’s fantasy future?
This thought led, by way of several gulps of smoothie, to the conclusion that we are experiencing a serial apocalypse. The end of whatever we call the past wasn’t a sharp division, an imaginary border in time, but a process that had been going on for quite awhile. The End wasn’t a terminal boundary but a permeable membrane. Did the battle of Armagedeon happen in 1918, or in 1968? Or will that be in 2018? The first are “futuristic” or modern battles in or around the old site of Meddigo; perhaps the third will be same…
So is the First World War the switch point? Not really, because just slightly more than a century before that we have another apocalyptic event, with a concurrent death of an old world and the birth of a new. These apocalyptic dramas have been played out before, and the world did change, but in the end the change led only to more and greater change. Could the real End, the real future, be just an exhaustion of novelty?
More likely, the End will be a chaotic cacophony of novelty, an overload of strangeness in which in some alternative future-past, we become something like those windsurfing Martians on the dead lakebeds of old Barsoom. And that End is as far distant in time, perhaps, as Nostradamus’ ultimate predictions for the fourth millennium after the beginning of the Common Era.
The apocalyptic tide has been coming in for several centuries now, and soon, perhaps last year or in the next decade, the high tide line will be reached. The tide will turn and the apocalyptic wave will begin to recede. The new will become the old, waiting on the beach of existence to be rearranged by a wave from the next apocalyptic high tide.
Perhaps in the end, the beginning of the future, the place where we inhabit the apocalypse, is the point where we embrace the strangeness, and begin to long for vast changes and pipeline waves off Apocalypse Beach. For me, that happened in the summer of 1961, just after I turned nine, in a grubby grocery store in Greenville South Carolina.
The past, the true old world of several apocalyptic waves back, still reigned in the south of my youth. It wasn’t so much that the future hadn’t arrived, we had television after all, as it was that the ghosts of the past had a death grip on that future’s potential. The headlines spoke of Freedom Riders and mobs in Montgomery and the smell of Armageddon was in the air that summer, falling as it did between the Bay of Pigs and the rise of the Berlin wall; as was the ozone tang of outer space from the just beginning space race, which in just eight years, leas than half as long as I had been alive at point, would land us on the moon. No wonder the future seemed so tangible in our imagination.
Where was I when the world ended? Where was I when the future began?
I was sitting on a bench in front of Carpenter Brother’s drug store discovering Martians…

Archived: https://web.archive.org/web/20040406233359/http://www.alternativeapproaches.com:80/news_index98.html