This afternoon, my uncle's Minnesota West women's basketball team lost a heartbreaking 68-66 game against perennial power Anoka-Ramsey, which is the No. 1 team in the nation in the NJCAA's Division III rankings. Minnesota West came into the game ranked ninth. At one point the Lady Jays led by 20, before the Golden Rams - who have been beating teams by 20, 30, 40, 60 points during the year - put on a furious rally and survived a last-second 3-point attempt.
During the game, my cousin kept me up to date on the game with text messages. So I followed from afar as she reported on the happenings, which she only knew about because someone was texting the scores to her from the gym. Up five early. Up 12 late in the first half. Only ahead by five now, but a key player fouled out. Up four, then tied. Then the next text didn't arrive for a few minutes. I could have almost predicted the result: Anoka-Ramsey wins. The last time my cousin texted me results of the Lady Jays' games was 11 months ago at the state tournament. That night, just like today, Minnesota West lost a close one, that time in the semifinals. The lesson? A superstitious person might think it's bad luck having my cousin text me updates.
Minnesota West will face Anoka-Ramsey later in the regular season. And, if both teams take care of business, they could again square off in the state tournament and again in the region. From there? Minnesota teams have won 11 of the last 19 national championships. If the Lady Jays and Anoka do meet in the state tournament, they'll fight to see who's the best team in Minnesota. And one of them could then very well be the best in the nation.
I wandered down to our local library today and came back with four books. One is "The Complete Poetical Works of Keats." The library doesn't stamp the books anymore when they're checked out, so perhaps the book has left the premises in the past 30 years. But in the front, where the kindly, bespectacled librarians used to stamp it, is one lonely entry: Nov 9 1981. Wonder who took it? And did they return it on time or pay a fine? The book possesses that Old Book Smell, which is neck-in-neck with New Car Smell for best scents. How old is this book? It came out in 1899. This one isn't a newer version; the only listed copyright is the 1899 one and the Editor's Note was also written that year, 78 years after Keats' death. Keats only lived 25 years, but his works have lived on forever. And, in Inwood, so too do his collected works, even if very few people know it.
Bemused, bordering on morbid, curiosity sparked my interest in another book. "Apocalypse Next: The End of Civilization as we know it?" Well, at least it included a question mark. William R. Goetz wrote the book and it first came out in 1981. Thankfully this has nothing to do with the Mayan 2012 End of the World nonsense that will become unbearable next year, although, hopefully, people will stop believing in it once the calendar hits January 1, 2013. Goetz deals with the Bible, a favorite source of inspiration, guidance, spirituality and mass death.
Fanatical believers in the apocalypse fascinate me, provided they don't go out of their way to bring about an event they can't wait to arrive. A guy named Harold Camping has been in the news lately because he believes the world is ending on May 21 of this year. In other words, if you've been putting off that trip around the world or buying that big-screen television, go ahead and charge it all to the credit card. No one's going to be around in five months to harass you on the phone for payment. Camping's actually traveling with an "End Times Caravan," spreading the good word about the bad times ahead. He's done this before, previously predicting that the world would end in 1994. When it comes to predictions and guarantees, Camping's record is only slightly better than Patrick Ewing's. Yet many believe him. And when the sun rises on May 22 - well, likely rises - he'll readjust his readings of the Bible and come up with another new date. And when that time comes, he'll find plenty of people willing to hop on another caravan, perhaps one called End Times Caravan: This Time It's For Real.
Goetz relies on the Bible too. In the version I have, the 10th printing of the book, Goetz doesn't offer any exact dates, only readings of Scripture. Goetz writes about a rising Babylon, red, white and black horses and all the other standards of Revelations and the Rapture. He does give some predictions:
An invasion of Israel by "the Russian confederacy." Then the leader of the revived Roman Empire - toga! toga! toga! - "collaborates with the global false church in the initial stages of the Antichrist's rule." Things get worse from there.
Stories about Camping and other Rapture revelers often report that scholars say end times prophecies thrive during times of war and economic struggle. In other words, they thrive at all times. The world today, with high-profile wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and low-profile ones in other places, coupled with the economic debacle of the past few years, convinces people that our times are the worst ever, so of course Jesus - or whoever - will come down and put an end to things. But there have always been wars and economic trouble, the severity of which depended on where you lived. The 1400s were a time of peace? The 1700s? The 1910s? The '40s? Wars and economic troubles aren't any excuse to believe in the Rapture. If you want to believe it, offer more proof than the type of headlines that could have been written at any point in human history.
The world might end in 10 years or in a million. Or maybe not for a few billion when the sun finally burns out. And if it does end when humans are still around, the only good thing is the zealots will only have a few seconds when they can say, "Told you so."