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May 22, 2011

The subways and the train station were full of them: people wearing tee shirts of a-green-not-found-in-nature,  emblazoned with the particulars of the Rapture, which was to occur at 6pm yesterday afternoon.  Mostly they looked pleased: an adventure was ahead.  One young lady spoke excitedly on her cell phone to a friend, planning where they would be passing out Rapture flyers during the day and where they would meet as six o'clock approached.  

It was reported that many believers abandoned their financial lives, quitting their jobs and plundering their children 's college money to support their business of spreading the word about what was certain to happen at 6pm yesterday.  

The former civil engineer whose calculations produced the target date --  the  father, grandfather and great-grandfather of dozens of descendants -- was repudiated in his belief by all of them.  Only his long-suffering wife remained.  For him, the end is very near: he is eighty-nine years old.   

As ever, the end predicted with such precision has not come.   From time to time, many people have crunched the numbers to find the date of the Judgment.  It is a decidedly this-worldly project, this marriage of arithmetic and theology, but it is not new.  Sometimes, as in this case, it has caught the attention of the world outside the community in which it arose.  Sometimes, as in this case, it has caught the attention of everyone.  That attention has ranged from puzzlement to derision.  It has been a good week for satire.

Today is Sunday, the day after the Rapture was scheduled.  What will it be for those who risked everything for what did not happen?  What will they tell their disinherited  children?  Their bewildered parents, their former colleagues?  Will they get new jobs?  

And what will they believe now?   I imagine they will find a way to believe what they believed before the Rapture that didn't come -- people usually manage to think what they've always thought, even in the face of overwhelming evidence against it.   Truth is much more community-relative than we imagine it to be.  We want so much to remain in our community that we will find a way to think what it thinks, no matter what.

Those of us who did not expect the Rapture, who shook our heads in wonder at the hype surrounding it -- what will we do?   I hope that we will be kind: it was a perfect target for the irony of which many of us are so fond.  But some people's lives depended on it, as far as they were concerned.  Let's remember what dashed dreams are like, for all of us know something about that.   
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