5/11/11

The End of the World

If you want to know when the world is ending, don't consult the Bible - talk to a 13 year-old.

The other day I was transporting one of my students to and from testing. He was talking about 2012, explaining matter-of-factly that the world was going to end. I listened mostly while he explained why he knew the world was facing impending doom. Scattered throughout his side of the conversation were anxious comments one would expect to hear from a boy of his age as he attempted to wrap his mind around imminent doom.

While he talked I saw myself as a 13 year-old having the same belief. There was a resonance between the younger me and my passenger. In an attempt to speak to both youngsters in the car I said, "People have been saying the world is going to end forever." Then I added, "The world ends for people every day all over the world but I don't think you have to worry yet about the world ending for you."

Years ago I read that kids of a certain age catastrophize their lives in order to prove to themselves they can survive. In other words, they impose a certain amount of manageable trauma on themselves and their friends and then set about overcoming it. The school of thought here is that children first use their heroes and antiheroes to create (or mimic) fearful situations, then conquer their fears by watching the hero overcome the antihero. As children become teenagers, heroes and antiheroes still play a role but it's more nuanced and more internalized. Still, the challenge is to scare oneself to death and live through it. I have often wondered if this isn't the reason horror movies are so popular among a certain younger demographic. I suspect this notion is unique to the Western world where trauma is not in our faces daily like it is in other parts of the world where trauma and death are ever present.

In two days of ferrying my student to and from a testing site 30 minutes from his home, we talked about zombies, monsters, snakes, spiders, getting poked with needles, and a host of other "scary" topics. In between these topics were ordinary topics about places he has lived, things he likes to watch on You Tube, his family, and his philosophical (as it were) notions about growing up.

I believe that sometimes God visits as a teenager to remind me that the world is destroyed and remade every day in a million different ways - some absurd and others all too real. Everyone carries anxiety, fear, hope, and the need to overcome adversity in varying proportions and degrees of intensity. When you're riding with a 13 year old, you see the primordial soup sitting in an open container; organic and unstirred. One of the things I like about working with children is that they are often more honest versions of the me I have learned to disguise in order to avoid shame, judgement, and misunderstanding.

As I get older and less concerned about how I appear to others, I am more able to appreciate the creativity, resilience, imagination, and optimism in children who are but a rough draft of who they will become. The urge to edit or redact childish and overly dramatic narratives has lessened in me. I am beginning to feel, for the first time in my life, that if the world truly ended tomorrow - the child in me would find a way to be reborn and live on.

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