It's 11:55 p.m. on the Doomsday Clock; do you know where your children are?
Actually, it doesn't matter. The clock never will hit midnight because, if it did, there wouldn't be any human hands around to reset it, much less any children or parents to worry about.
But let's not jump that far ahead. We have enough trouble figuring out what to do with daylight saving time, let alone worry about how a group of scientists arbitrarily sets a make-believe clock to scare the world into enacting treaties that, history affirms, will not keep tyrants from tyrannizing or dictators from dictating.
What we ought to worry about are our own doomsday clocks, which seem to be set about as haphazardly as toys on the floor of a 2-year-old's playroom and which, let's be honest, could go off at any moment.
The boards of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which includes 18 Nobel laureates, decided to move the world's big hypothetical clock ahead a minute last week, to five minutes of annihilation, because the leaders of the world have failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test ban Treaty, have made no progress toward stopping production of nuclear weapons material and haven't kept Iran from working on a bomb. Also, a lack of progress on global warming and questions surrounding the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster helped them decide it was getting later.
I'm venturing to guess we're not all synchronizing our watches. You have different lists. I know this because my inbox fills up with them daily.
For some, the clock is close to midnight because of a president they believe has a secret agenda to destroy the nation.
For others, it ticks away because they believe Republicans would reward the rich and destroy social programs.
Some think the clock is running out because illegal immigrants are, as they see it, overrunning the land and robbing its resources. For others it is running because those immigrants are being persecuted, their families yanked apart.
Others see doomsday lurking even amid signs of economic recovery. Unemployment may be down, but Europe is teetering like an old skyscraper filled with demolition dynamite. If it goes, we go with it.
Pick your pet issue and set your clock accordingly. Is it terrorism or the advance of radical ideologies? How about the degradation of popular media and the coarsening of society? Is it an education system that fails to adequately prepare the next generation?
My point isn't to discount any of these issues. They are important, and they could leave lasting consequences. They also are open to solutions and debate. Doom can be left in the waiting room.
If we really knew doomsday, or even a major catastrophe, was five minutes away, how would we act?
Speaker and essayist Og Mandino said, "Remember that you will only find 'tomorrow' on the calendars of fools. Forget yesterday's defeats and ignore the problems of tomorrow. This is it. Doomsday. All you have."
Ralph Waldo Emerson was on the same wavelength when he wrote, "No man has learned anything rightly, until he knows that every day is doomsday."
That doesn't mean it's time to panic, but it ought to color our priorities a bit.
In his biography of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, David Maraniss describes how the tough demeanor changed once Lombardi knew he was seriously ill and about to die. Suddenly he acknowledged being too hard on his children. When he saw a woman peddling flowers on the street, he pulled a wad of bills from his pocket and bought them all for his daughter-in-law.
Maraniss writes, "It was as though Lombardi was on a game show where he had five minutes to throw as much as he could into the shopping cart."
Whether or not you are religious, you know the end is coming and the game show is about to cut to its final commercial. And whether or not you believe scientists got it right when they reset the clock, your own mortal end is likely to precede that of the earth.
Neither thought should keep you from planning for the future or from sleeping at night. They should, however, keep you from just gazing at the clock all day.