The end is always nigh


The end is always nigh

Why do our minds, our cells, yearn for a utopia? For righteousness, prosperity and goodwill? Why does the evil in people shock us time and again, DEBORAH STEINMAIR wonders.


JUDGMENT day, Armaggedon — in my mind, words for the so-called end times are dressed up in biblical terms.

My grandmother, my role model, was a devout chiliast. It means someone who believes Christ is coming to rapture his true congregation. That will be followed by the Great Judgment of the unrighteous and the Golden Age. She firmly believed it would happen in her lifetime. Jesus' disciples also believed he would return in their lifetime, and so did many saints throughout the ages.

My grandmother taught me that I would never grow up and have children. When I was 12, she was raptured all on her own, as if by a thief in the night. Was she surprised to see St Peter at the gates? Suddenly I was facing a long and lonely future.

When the going gets tough (as has happened more or less throughout the history of mankind), people always clutch at this straw: surely it must be the last days. The hourglass is empty. The judgment is final. The urn fell at the well. The seals have been broken and the trumpet has sounded.

We are watching a documentary series on Netflix, Sins of Our Mother. A Mormon woman becomes overly pious and, driven by divine wrath, murders everyone she believes is possessed by evil spirits. They include her ex-husband, her daughter and her stepson. And the wife of the pastor in whom, according to her, she found her counterpart in righteousness and godliness. Together they were planning to prepare the 144,000 elect for the end of time.

Spoiler alert: she buried her children in the yard and filled store rooms with tinned food. Tinned food is always involved in conspiracy theories. What happens to these mountains of tin after the expiry date?

In Pentecostal churches in small Afrikaans villages — where a rapture is also awaited — the message often comes through in English, and then almost Shakespearean English, often incorrectly used by the prophet: Yeah and yeah sayeth the Lord God, the end is nigh, aye and aye and amen, brethren. The rapture approacheth. Hallay-lUUUUUUUU-yahh.

Yes, but where?

It reminds me of my favourite joke: The reverend and his son are on the road. The car breaks down. They ask a farmer for a place to sleep. Late at night, the reverend's son and the farmer's daughter vanish. The reverend and the farmer spend all night searching the farm with a torch and a lantern. Later, the reverend points to the east and declares: “The dawn is nigh." And the farmer grumbles: “Ek weet die donner naai, maar WAAR?"

Why do our minds, our cells, yearn for a utopia? For righteousness, prosperity and goodwill? Why does the evil in people shock us time and again? Did we think we were here for a picnic, a rose garden? I beg your pardon, I did.

But Eskom's so-called load-shedding makes one yearn for the end of days. There is not even enough time to charge the inverters. It is impossible for the wise virgins to keep oil in their lamps. That old joke, “will the last person to leave the country please turn off the lights", no longer applies. Problem solved.

And yet, we are still here and we will live out our days if we are lucky. It always strikes me how resilient and adaptable people are. How soon they stop complaining and start making plans. There is indeed much good to be said about our species. Well, about most of us — I'm not so sure about the ANC. My excuses for them have run out.

We are waiting to be rescued, for Godot. We feel displaced, like orphans.

My partner's recent nightmare is indicative of our insecurity: she dreams that I end the relationship because she is too slow. Against her nature, she starts pleading and asks for an explanation. I provide an example; one of those complicated arguments that only makes sense in dreams. Then she wakes up during her dream — what a mean trick for her  subconsciousness to play. Still in her dream, but firmly under the impression that she is awake, she tells me: “I had a horrible dream." And still in her dream, I pull the blanket up to my eyes and say: “It wasn't a dream." This is more or less how we feel every day.

Darkness is approaching

Grandma, I did grow up and married a man and had children. Now I have a woman. And still the unrighteousness persists. And still we remain hopeful that the tide will turn; that the rand's value will increase against the main currencies; that it will rain; that Putin will choke on a lump of sugar; that the ANC will be voted out. We keep believing and hoping, because it's in our nature. We adapt and keep on working, because darkness is approaching and poverty may stalk us like an armed person. We look to the ants and become wise, we sow and put shoulder to the wheel, hand to the plough.

Your beloved 1933 translation is gathering dust on my bookshelf, its words having become rusted, but you promised that all your prayers for me will last me a lifetime. Your prophecies didn't always come true but I will always remember one thing about you: your cheerful diligence. Always at work, long before sunrise, raising a hallelujah. I try to imitate you, even though I can't sing in tune. I get up in the dark and use my cellphone's light to stumble to the study.

I hear the preacher's words in your voice: “The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd. And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh.”

Fortunately, I'm not a son and that's why I collect goads and proverbs and get involved in the making of many books. And wait for the power to come back on.

♦ VWB ♦

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