We awoke this morning around 5:30 a.m., to the standard background of doors opening and closing, people coughing and hacking, and dogs barking. This particular time, however, the sounds seemed somehow less abrasive—brightened by the humming background of a few hundred Tibetan monks chanting.
While across the continent religious fanatics were seized for distributing doomsday materials (China), and 1000 Russians huddled deep underground in Stalin’s bunker, having paid $1500 each to be protected from the world’s end (Moscow), we sat watching hundreds of Buddhists going calmly about their morning prayers around a giant stupa in Kathmandu. In Serbia, coal shafts were opened to shelter the masses following the impending emergence of an evil sorcerer inside the mountain, where people could hide as he went on to destroy the world. Gendarmes blocked access to a peak in the Pyranees, where a giant UFO was expected to beam up gathered devotees (France), and the annual winter solstice celebration at Stonehenge took on larger-than-life dimensions despite declarations by the party’s Druid hosts that they had no end-of-world expectations (United Kingdom). Another party raged in Cisternino, complete with hot air balloons and sleepless nights (Italy), while the only notable doomsday gathering in Sirence was that of journalists hoping to document “believers,” to the great dismay of local shopkeepers (Turkey). Perhaps the epicenter of end-of-world festivities, being affiliated with the Mayan prognostication that had spurred all of this ruckus, was Chichen Itza, a Mayan ruin on the Yucutan Peninsula (Mexico). Here, however, people were gathered to celebrate the dawning of a new area. Presumably, there were countless smaller and less documented ceremonies of celebration, mourning, anticipation, and fear across the globe. I would hate to think how many disappointed faces left these events, returning to desk jobs, mortgages, and everyday rituals that they had finally forsaken.
What I marvel at is how common these events are. In my mere 25 years, I have already witnessed the mass-hysteria of Y2K, doomsdays, and the end of civilization “as we know it.” Is humanity so bored as to need more drama, tragedy, and panic than genocides, guerrilla warfare, action thrillers, and so-called “reality TV” can provide?
While I pondered the humor embodied in these mass demonstrations of some intrinsic human fascination with the absurd, I found great comfort in the calm river of grandmothers, children, and monks alike that circumambulated the stupa, spinning prayer wheels and holding prayer beads. They all made their way around the circle at their own pace, quietly paying homage before continuing their daily work, studies, or travel. Just another day.