In Which Our Revels Are Not Ended


Essay by
Kenneth Spell


January 2013


Lisbon earthquake, 1755

This is what Los Angeles was supposed to look like in December 2012. You saw the movie 2012, didn't you?

No wonder I took my time paying the cable bill. It may explain why my department didn't get any calendars for 2013. "Look, if this Mayan stuff is true, we're wasting paper. We can save on our budget."

2012 was a little stimulus program all its own. It kept History Channel personnel gainfully employed, provided plenty of product for the documentary department. It gave Nostradamus scholars a chance to re-translate their old predictions. "Let me see that quatrain again. Now if you say that 5 really means 2, and S is a code for Q, it's obviously a reference to December 21st." Ancient Aliens had an episode about 2012. Their experts found proof in ancient calendars, Edgar Cayce, legends of a Nemesis planet, the alignment of the solar system. You'd have thought we'd at least have gotten locusts or something.

But December 20th and the 21st came, and we're still here. I spent the day before Doomsday in Georgia watching game shows with my mother, then reading on my Kindle. On the 21st I read Jon Meacham's biography of Thomas Jefferson. It was either too cold or too rainy to go out. I watched the Today show that morning, glanced up at the clock a few times. "Well, there might be something to it."

Our farewell address had been written centuries before:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Prospero's speech in The Tempest (4.1.148-158) would have done the job nicely. But the 22nd of December came, and we persist. Along with us are all our institutions and all our dilemmas. None of them exist without us to keep them going. There is no debt or deficit, no wealth, no money, no Gross National Product without human beings to concern themselves over the matter. Without us banks are only metal boxes with stacks of green paper and shiny metal discs. The most impressive governmental building is nothing but a white marble sepulchre, an empty slab. But the human race goes on, and so can continue to consume, produce, disappoint, and inspire.


© 2013 Kenneth Spell

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Lisbon earthquake, 1755


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