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  • Alexandra Hillenbrand

It's Not the End of the World

When I was 11 years old, I thought the world was going to end. When my classmates told me that the Mayan Calendar predicted humanity's imminent doom, my heart dropped into my stomach and never resurfaced. I was so disturbed by this news and yet, I never spoke about it with anyone. I didn't bring it up to my friends, my sisters, not even my parents. Instead, I would sit alone in my backyard and stare up at the vastness of the sky. I tried to memorize the ethereal patterns of the clouds, the sweet smell of the autumnal breeze, the way the sun set over the cherry blossom trees. I believed that if I told anyone about it, they would feel the paralyzing fear that had claimed itself a home in the nape of my neck. I couldn't justify weighing anyone else with that frozen burden. I talked to God a lot, instead.

As a singular 11 year old, I had the self-aggrandizing perspective that the weight of the world fell on me. I blame this on reading too many novels with a child protagonist who had to save humanity. I didn't have super powers or special gifts, I just had my heart and mind. I promised God a few things. I would be perfectly good, self-sacrificing even. I would always put everyone else first, and I would never ask for help. I don't know at what point this ideal melded from being an intentional act to an inviolable expectation I set for myself. I just know that it did.

Of course, the world did not end. The world did not end, but the carefree attitude of my childlike wonder did. I never walked into a room without feeling the gray haze of disillusionment and existentialism. Talk about a fun 12 year old to be around! The truth was this - I didn't know how to exist in a world where nothing is guaranteed. One where parent's fight, best friends don't stay best friends, and it sometimes snows in October. The only thing I could control was myself. If I made myself as inconsequential and palatable as possible, then maybe I could ensure an existence where I was sincerely happy? How optimistic. If the world can end once, it can end again.

This too shall pass. This too shall pass. This too shall pass. If you convince yourself of that enough, maybe you can believe that it is true. Worlds end all the time. When someone you love dies, when your heart gets broken, when the ice cream truck skips your street. My world has ended more times than I can even count. Although, I remember them all. The pain of each cataclysmic death is etched into my memory so uniquely and viscerally. To me, everything is a wound with an innately thin layer of healed skin. Waiting, just waiting, for someone to puncture it with the sharpness of their nails. Most of the time, the person scraping off that layer is me.

It would be inauthentic for me to tell you that hurt goes away. It doesn't, but we all know this. We also know that it always evolves. It turns itself into a reason for change, a lesson, a story to tell our kids. It shapes our sense of empathy and allows us to help others heal. To be the person applying a layer of salve to their wounds, giving them back just one layer of themselves that they have stripped away in order to survive.

Even when the world ends, it never really ends. If I could go back in time, I would sit on the wicker rocking bench with 11 year old me and hold her hand. I'd tell her that it is okay to talk about your fear, that not everything has to be handled alone, and sometimes, yes, it is actually okay to let someone else carry a portion of your burden for you. Of course, she would look at me and ask "Well, what about you?"

I would look at her and laugh. "You know me," I'd say, "I am my own exception to the concept of grace."

She wouldn't let that slide. After all, I was a lot bolder back then and incredibly self-righteous. "That's not fair. You deserve peace too." I'd smile and look away.

"Someday," I'd say. "Today, I'm here to listen to you."











Okay - I was going to end this here, but then my mom didn't screw the bottom of the blender on all the way and it exploded all over her. I expected to look over at her and see an embarrassed expression on her face(projection, much!). Instead, my father and her were silently laughing. I say, "Oh, you're laughing?", to which my dad responds, "Well, what else can you do?"

Well, what else can you do but laugh!




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