Apocalypse Now?

One of the last things my husband and I did before the realities of social distancing set in was to have dinner with his sister and her family.  The topic of conversation turned to the coronavirus, and at some point someone said, “It all feels so apocalyptic.”  Without missing a beat, my 7-year-old niece chimed in with curiosity in her voice, “What does apocalyptic mean?”

All of the adults looked at one another with just a little bit of panic in our eyes.  Earlier we had been navigating what music we could put on in the background that would have language and themes appropriate for my niece, but I don’t know if any of us had given much thought to how she might be trying to make sense of the language and themes of the new world we were quickly finding ourselves in.  

My brother-in-law took the lead and did a nice job explaining in a kid-friendly way what “apocalyptic” means.  I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it seemed to satisfy my niece without scaring her.  I recognized that this was a rare moment when my theological training could be useful, so I chimed in to add that that the etymology of the word breaks down to words meaning “uncovering” or “revealing.” 

At the time, I thought this was just a fun factoid to add to the conversation, but ever since that night, I’ve been thinking about what this “apocalypse” might be unveiling and bringing to light.  When we begin to see empty grocery shelves, hospitals running out of supplies, plummeting stock markets, and governmental orders requiring closures and isolation, we may start to throw around the word “apocalyptic” because we think this word means the end of the world.  But maybe it’s more accurate to think of it as the end of the world as we once knew it. 

Perhaps the things that are being revealed to us about how many people live in vulnerable financial situations will mean that we cannot accept simply going back to the way things were. 

Perhaps the things that are being uncovered about how those with power use their positions to profit in the midst of tragedy will mean that we demand greater accountability from those who serve in leadership roles. 

Perhaps the necessities of isolation and physical distancing are illuminating for each of us what habits, relationships, and ways of focusing our energy are the most important and life-giving. 

When things start to feel a bit too apocalyptic, I find comfort in remembering that people have been predicting the end of the world for as long as people have been around.  While I do not think the world will end because of this virus, I also don’t think anything will necessarily change in the days/weeks/months ahead unless we allow ourselves to truly see what is being revealed, to grieve the lives and losses that are happening all around us, and to commit to not putting the blinders back on but to continuing to help build a world where all may flourish.