It was Thanksgiving morning in 1986, I think, that my Daddy’s friend got gunned down in a trailer park by his cousin. There was liquor involved, and a shotgun, and much screaming, and my Dad’s friend, who had tried to get his cousin to put down the gun and go sober up, was instead shot down and left to bleed out on the gravel in front of his house.
I remember it was Thanksgiving because we were getting ready to go to my grandmother’s when Dad heard the news. He told Mom he would be back soon, and then hopped in his truck and went over to see the family. It was a dirty, shabby story, with no way to clean it up or make it make sense. It was the sort of tragedy that happens when families squabble and there is both alcohol and guns involved.
Eventually, Dad came home, and we went to my grandmothers and ate, while Dad pushed the food around on his plate, and then got up and went for a walk, leaving us all at the table.
In the weeks that followed, I heard Dad and others talk about the man who had died. He had been a leader in his small community, had served on the Volunteer Fire Department, and was generally seen as someone to look up to. That he died trying to de-escalate a bad situation only added to his personal legend.
It was the first time I really thought about what people would say about you after you were dead.
* * *
A while back, a friend sent me the Urban Dictionary entry for an Apocaloptomist and said, “It’s you!”
I looked at it and realized, sadly, that it was. I do believe the world is going to shit, but still at least hope it turns out OK. I am inordinately hopeful, in the midst of overwhelming evidence that the world is crumbling around me.
I’m not some Pollyanna – In fact, I’m somewhat resigned to the facts: The world is getting warmer, the systems that hold us together are failing us, and our politicians have sold us out for campaign contributions. But if the world is ending, well, what sort of person do I want to be when the world ends?
Do I want to be the guy on the jet, eeeking out every bit of hedonistic pleasure, or the person committed to the very end to hold on as long as possible, to scratch and scrimp to save as many people as possible for as long as possible?
“What sort of person will I be when the world ends?”
I think about this question all the time. Not the specific form, but the general: What sort of person will I be when X happens?
What sort of person will I be when the supply chain runs out of food? Will I be the sort of person who had enough food to share with their neighbors, or the sort of person who sits on their roof with a gun, to defend their homestead?
When I am old and my grandchildren learn in school about the Obergefell v. Hodges, the same way I learned about Brown v. The Board of Education, what sort of story will I have for them when I get asked about where I was? What sort of person was I in the years up to Obergfell v. Hodges? In the years after?
When I am “…layin’ on [my] back, lookin’ at the roof of the church / Preacher tellin’ the truth and it hurts”, to quote DMX, well, what sort of person do I want them to say I was? What sort of person do you want to be when you are dead?
I don’t believe in the great man theory of history – that some are born great, waiting on history to recognize them. Instead, I believe history is made by those who show up, who decide to take a stand, who, when given a choice to do something or to do nothing, choose to do something.
And I will, as long as I can, be the person who does something. And I know I’m not alone in that. It doesn’t all depend on me – there are lots of us that choose, in the moment of truth, to do something.
And maybe, together, we can change things. We can definitely try.
And that gives me hope, in spite of the facts.