My high school English teacher told me that when Ray Bradbury was growing up, he, like many people, tuned into the famous War of the Worlds broadcast by H.G. Wells.
She said that he, like many people, thought the broadcast was real. Thought that aliens were invading the planet. Thought that we were all going to die.
So, she said, he gathered up his younger brother, packed some sandwiches, and walked up the hill. To watch the world end.
He would have been 18 at the time, but beyond that, I have no idea if the story is true.
There’s something else I associate with this story, though truth be told, I’m not totally sure where this came from.
As I recall, my English teacher told me that later when recounting this story, Bradbury explained his calm acceptance of the end of world by saying that – reality only exists insofar as we perceive it. When I die, my reality dies, my world ends. Just as death is inevitable, the end of the world is inevitable. So really, there’s nothing else to do but to sit back and experience life, even in its destruction.
It certainly sounds like something Bradbury would say.
And there’s something very logical about just accepting the inevitable. About accepting things you can’t change. About experiencing what you can, when you can.
But, I think my English teacher missed something in this story (or maybe I did at the time).
Bradbury’s short story, The Last Night of the World, explores a similar situation. The story captures a couple’s last day as they calmly accept that the world will end that night. “I always imagined people would be screaming in the streets at a time like this,” one says.
And how is it that everyone, knowing they are doomed, stays so calm?
“Because there’s nothing else to do.”
“That’s it, of course, for if there were, we’d be doing it.”
But the point is just the opposite. The world is ending. Every day.
Through war, environmental destruction, and the senseless snuffing of individual lives, realities and worlds. The world is ending.
And we calmly accept it as inevitable. As if there is nothing to be done. As if we faced our own death and shrugged. So it goes.
The world is ending. And most of us are just watching it end.
“We haven’t been too bad, have we?”
“No, nor enormously good. I suppose that’s the trouble. We haven’t been very much of anything except us, while a big part of the world was busy being lots of quite awful things.”