The English poet Phillip Larkin had a thing or two to say about death. Yes, I'm talking about global death and destruction this week, since a small, radical Christian group is anticipating it and getting miles of media coverage.
Death, Larkin wrote, is -
"The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true."
He could be a bit dark, Larkin, but that's allowed, it's a dark enough world betimes - and certainly his wise words are completely unforgettable.
I often think of his poems when I witness people doing increasingly desperate things in the faint hope of escaping what Larkin knew can never be outrun.
That's why, the other morning, I stopped to watch a man who was wearing a big sandwich board and marching up and down 34 Street leafleting passersby. I asked him for one and he handed it to me without a word. I was struck by the urgency of his gaze.
His leaflet claimed that the Rapture would occur this Saturday, May 21. How thoughtful of him to warn us all. His leaflet didn't mention if he meant Greenwich Mean Time or Eastern Standard Time. It occurred to me that it would have been helpful to know this.
So there you have it. A percentage of the world's population will simply vanish, ascending straight into Heaven, and the for the rest of us it'll Road Warrior, Beyond Thunderdome for about five months.
The leaflet quoted scripture:
"And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man."
- Revelation 9:5
Five months of torment and torture, I don't really know in aid of what.
Magic snakes, burning bushes, floods and arks, forbidden apples, ruptures and raptures and rising up from the dead. It's odd, isn't it, the mighty stories we tell ourselves to make light of the threatening dark.
I read this week that an Irish American man named Robert Fitzpatrick blew all of his $140,000 retirement savings on an ad buy to warn the public that a Global Earthquake will strike us on Saturday. He didn't mind spending it all, he said, because he's be in Heaven on Sunday and - I suppose - they don't have a WalMart.
Can you imagine how Fitzgerald will feel by Sunday evening if the promised Rapture has not occurred? He'll be without his life savings, he'll be sunk. But he's not worried, though: "It is the date," he told Daily News.
Death is very sad. It's insuperable. It comes for us all. The need to escape that harsh truth has seduced men and women since the dawn of time. I suppose Fitzgerald will have ample time to contemplate those ironies when he's forced out of retirement by the end of the month.