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Jay Evensen: 'Rapture' didn't kill us, but it taught some lessons

Published: Sunday, May 22 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Pauline Lamb of Salt Lake City, drops off a prescription at Sam's Club with the help of Pharmacy Technician Ophet Senghanh (name spelling cq) just after Gerry Hassell, Wal-Mart District Pharmacy Manager in Utah annouced a $4 generic prescription drug program at all 40 Wal-Mart and Sam's Club pharmacies in Utah. The annoucement took place at the Sam's Club located at 1905 S. 300 W. in Salt Lake City, Utah Thursday Nov. 16, 2006. August Miller/ Deseret Morning News

August Miller, AugustMiller/Deseret Morning Ne

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Live each day as if it were your last … or so the saying goes.

Which reminds me. How was your Rapture experience yesterday?

Did you make a killing off the faith of others, the way the atheist founder of Eternal Earth-bound Pets did? He sells insurance to believers of the Rapture, offering to care for their pets after they have been taken into heaven. His fee — strictly payable in advance, of course — went up in advance of yesterday's expected event.

Or did you take a more benign, but no less cynical, route by agreeing to "attend" a public event advertised by a Facebook page that urged people to pick up "some sweet stereo equipment" by looting the homes of people who were taken up?

Or were you instead close to one of the 70,000 or so whose mortal experience did in fact end yesterday? That's how many people, on average, die each day on this planet, if one is to believe Answers.com.

Only condemned prisoners and terminally ill patients have a general idea of when their own end will come. The rest of us, who feel relatively fine, don't know for sure, except that we know the day is coming. Does that affect how we act? If so, how?

An 89-year-old Christian talk-radio personality named Harold Camping started all this fuss by boldly predicting May 21, 2011 as the end of the world. Such predictions have been a regular staple of American life through the years, but Camping's claim went viral.

That made it different from, say, Margaret Rowen, who once predicted the end would come on Feb. 6, 1925. She got only token coverage in some newspapers to go along with her own fiery sermons. But that was enough for Robert Reidt who, according to the New York Times on Jan. 20 of that year, "disposed of all his properties, including his household effects and winter potatoes, to settle his accounts with the world" before the big day.

I couldn't find any mention of how Reidt made it through the winter after the date came and life continued. We may, however, learn soon how some modern Robert Reidts plan to cope.

One of them is Robert Fitzpatrick, a retired New York City engineer who spent $140,000, which news reports said was nearly his entire life's savings, to buy 1,000 bus and subway ads warning people about May 21.

Other people quit their jobs or left their families to prepare themselves for the day. One woman told NPR she decided to abandon her plans for medical school when she heard of the prediction. Her husband left his job. The two of them decided to spend their final days with their infant daughter, instead.

"Knowing the date of the end of the world changes all your future plans," she said.

This was not a purely American experience. The Associated Press reported that thousands of ethnic Hmongs gathered near the border of Vietnam and Laos to await the promised end. Vietnamese authorities arrested several of them and dispersed about 5,000.

I have no wish to denigrate the sincere beliefs of others. A prediction, however, either comes true or it doesn't. The world did not end yesterday, nor were 200 million Christians pulled into heaven, leaving everyone else to suffer the torment of earthquakes and other disasters.

We did learn something last week, however, about how to prepare for the end. It came in the obituaries of former baseball great Harmon Killebrew. He was described by various friends, fellow players and others as nice, warm, genuine; the sort of person you would love to have as a member of your own family. A close friend told USA Today, Killebrew was someone who "brought out the best in everyone."

I didn't know him personally, but Killebrew sounds like the kind who spent many years preparing for the end by making sure he got there without regrets.

Or, as someone once said, "Live every day as if it were your last, and some day you will be right."

Jay Evensen is a Deseret News editorial writer. Email him at even@desnews.com. For more content, visit his web site, www.jayevensen.com.

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