The afternoon was ripe for Rapture. The struggling sun had given way to a gloomy gray and wind swept along the abnormally packed sidewalks with force. Despite these prime conditions, I couldn’t find a single person out to spread the word about Harold Camping’s 6 p.m. prediction. In the few hours preceding that most final of hours, I worked my way up through all the major areas, ending in Times Square itself. Five months ago, local believer Robert Fitzpatrick had confidently stood his ground here in anticipation, but this time all I found were suspicious looking people in character suits trying to collect money. When asked if he’d come for the big event, Elmo dismissively nodded yes.
With less than an hour until the end, and no hope in sight, this night called for a beer. Aside from the gruesome images of Gaddafi’s final moments playing overhead at the bar, the night showed no signs of death. Still, I couldn’t shake an increasingly dark feeling. After these past few months of city struggles, the prospect of not having to deal with it all anymore was almost appealing. As 6 p.m. drew closer, it was time to embrace my fate either way.
Not wanting to get stuck in purgatory on an empty stomach, I bought a hot dog and returned to find Fitzpatrick’s spot on Broadway glaringly empty. A comedy promoter said she’d seen a man preaching from a crate earlier, but it had been hours ago. A nearby cop joked, “If you see him, ask him for 10 bucks,” before more seriously informing me, “We’ve got nothin’ all day.” Last time I’d applauded Fitzpatrick’s ambition, but in his absence I realized it was nothing more than surrender. With only minutes to spare, I could understand the appeal. Because as Camping, Fitzpatrick and every other Family Radio acolyte surely felt at 6:01 p.m., the prospect of possibility is a daunting one indeed. As I watched my minute hand tick into the future, I realized that more than ever.
Despite its inevitability, the world’s continued existence gave me a welcome burst of adrenaline. I tried to share the moment with the evening crowd, but the only one who stopped was a smiling Asian kid. When asked how he felt that the world hadn’t ended, he blushed and said, “Happy, I guess.” Not knowing what else to do, I retreated into the subway, but suddenly returning to my lonely apartment felt like a poor way to celebrate. Such a night called for a burger and more beer in a suitably dank bar. Luckily, I knew just the place.
Holed up in a corner at the downtown Nancy Whiskey Pub, I proceeded to eat a gloriously cheap burger ($6!) and down a couple Buds. Nearby, a group of rowdy finance types regaled each other with tales of supremacy and three bandmates tried to impress each other with cultural knowledge. For a moment these people made me wish the world had actually ended, until I decided that their lives weren’t my problem. Trying to understand everything in this city was just as delusional as predicting the apocalypse.
Heading down into the Occupy Wall Street hubbub only made these feelings clearer. Even after spending time in their midst and keeping up on their actions, I still had no idea what the hell they were trying to do, but it didn’t matter. They looked stronger and more proud than ever. When I asked one of their newspaper distributors if he’d seen any Rapturites, he barely knew what I was talking about: “Oh right, right, right. Yeah, I don’t think I saw anybody. But we’re still here!” My prophetical investigation held no bearing on his movement, nor should it. In such a chaotic city, we had to focus on our own problems.
Upon returning home, I climbed atop my roof where I stared at the city skyline and felt more purpose than I had in months. I almost stepped onto my neighbors’ building to get a closer view, but stopped short when I saw their lights on. All year I’d been trying to nose into other realities where I didn’t belong. I still enjoy visiting — and will never stop being curious — but I need to focus on my own plot of land first. The grandness of our city may inspire big things, but as Camping’s repeated failures have proven, it may be better to start small. To actually make that happen, I’d need to stop looking for outside motivation and realize the most urgent fact of all: Our lives are endangered every day, so we’d better get moving if we want to make anything of them.