Elder Oaks warns us to keep a weather eye peeled for the Second Coming, or at least for the signs that precede it. He cites an increase in storms and disasters as one such sign. (Incidentally, he thinks they’re on the rise:
the list of major earthquakes in The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004 shows twice as many earthquakes in the decades of the 1980s and 1990s as in the two preceding decades (pp. 189–90). It also shows further sharp increases in the first several years of this century. The list of notable floods and tidal waves and the list of hurricanes, typhoons, and blizzards worldwide show similar increases in recent years (pp. 188–89). Increases by comparison with 50 years ago can be dismissed as changes in reporting criteria, but the accelerating pattern of natural disasters in the last few decades is ominous.
I’d be interested–he, too, I’m sure–to have some knowledgeable person investigate whether there were anything to this, preferably someone who doesn’t reject these sorts of thing a priori, or else accept them without questioning as the visible proofs, the five wounds incarnadine, of some scientific dispute transmuted into article of faith as in the global warming debate.)
Personally, I need the occasional storm or disaster or talk on the Second Coming. I need them as a spiritual corrective in the same way medieval men needed memento morii like the skull that grins in the title to this post.
At my graduation last weekend the Dean spoke. She warned us that we were entering into a life of power and privilege, and she was right. Oh, we’ll probably feel differently, since power and privilege are such that they always seem larger in other hands, but she was right. We will soon come to know and then to expect and then to assume a certain income and respect, friends in high places, and the occasional grab at the lever that moves our local worlds. Likewise with our brother lawyers from other schools, Harvard, Columbia, the University of Chicago, or even with any fellow professional, and even, really, with most any American. Anyone who reads or writes this blog likely has an idea what life might have in store for them.
But our nation was born on a battlefield where the tune was ‘The World Turned Upside Down.’ Echoes of that tune have been heard ever since. We have at last mastered the natural state of affairs, we think—and then the date is September 11th, or the date is today, and someone somewhere is looking out their eyes at a strange new world, wondering if even the ground will keep from shaking. In God’s work of remaking He promises us tumults will come. The World, on the other hand, will tempt us to indulge our natural taste for the eternities in the present and assume that things as they are now will continue on and on forever. But the tumult will come and we’ll be shocked, angry, and despaired. God will give us a crucible and we, the Sons and Daughters of God, will fumble gaping on the edge instead of cleanly diving in. How different if we were expecting it.
Fortune’s wheel seems solid like the earth and like it whirls continually. That’s why I’m grateful for wars and rumors of wars, storms, earthquakes, and talks on the Second Coming. I need them to remember that my own world can turn upside down.
That’s partly why I like emergency drills so much. We have them here frequently at Notre Dame, thanks to the lawyers who instructed our university to put in smoke detectors as sensitive as the Princess with her pea. We all pile out of the building, stand chatting on the sidewalk, and joke about all the things left inside that may be going up in flames. I’ve had them at work, too. Everyone comes out of their routine for a little convivial time with their fellows, learns something of use, and remembers that this world doesn’t last. I prefer my memento morii this way.
I realize my satisfaction in my own incremental growth is small comfort to draw from great disasters, I know, but perhaps in God’s mercy the victims will some day (or some Day) find extra meaning in their suffering because I have been a little lifted up.