When I was growing up, my maternal grandmother lived a little ways down the road from my parents' house. My younger sister and I loved that she could pop in unannounced, but looking back, it was probably a bit of a nightmare for our dad.
Every couple of Sundays, my grandma would come into our living room while my sister and I were watching cartoons to ask us if we wanted to kick off our morning with some ice cream. The answer, of course, was always a resounding "yes." We were eight and ten at the time, and there are few things truer than a child's dream of eating ice cream for breakfast.
My sister and I would pile into the backseat of our grandmother's car and drive off, all the while listing the various flavors we hoped to enjoy. But as life would later prove to us: If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
We would drive right past the ice cream parlor and instead pull into a church parking lot, because the phony assurance of an early dessert was all just a part of our grandmother's elaborate ruse to convince us to accept Jesus into our hearts.
This would happen once every three to four weeks. My sister and I would always fall for the false promise of a sugary breakfast, and despite our high hopes, we would invariably end up in church. And the only thing more disappointing than not eating ice cream is not eating ice cream and winding up at a surprise mass where some strange and miserable-looking man keeps talking about the rapturous promises of God's love. Meanwhile, my sister and I sat there thinking, "Well if the ice cream was a lie, how can you expect us to believe this bullshit?"
My grandmother has since died, as grandmas are wont to do. But before she passed away earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to have one last conversation with her.
We were driving home from my niece's birthday party. I was strictly taking back roads and cautiously going fifteen miles under the speed limit, as per her instructions. We were listening to her favorite preset Christian radio station when she suddenly said, "You know, sometimes I can't believe that the world has come to this."
"Really?" I asked, hoping it would prompt her to say more.
"Oh yes, Curty," she said. (She called me 'Curty,' and remains the only person to do so without eliciting an eye-roll). At 35 mph, we crawled by as I waited for her to elaborate. "You know what?" she continued. "That's not entirely true."
She went on to tell me that she was frustrated by the state of the world, but not entirely surprised. She told be about all the wars she'd lived through, the political scandals and assassinations from back in her day, the burned-out celebrities, the battles for social reform and some of the violence she'd seen in her lifetime.
"And then there was Vietnam," she added, "and we thought that was it. But it wasn't, because—Curty, you're going at 40 now. And I know this is a 50, but you should still go 35."
She changed the topic after that, and we chatted idly about how the birthday had gone and what she had planned for the rest of the week. There are so many things I would've liked to have asked her had I known we'd never speak again, but there was no way of knowing that would be our last time together.
I often think about that conversation in times like these, when I can barely read through the most recent, wretched news article before some new kind of wickedness comes crashing down around us.
My grandmother had seen segregation fade from a legal requisite to a social standard, women's rights move closer towards the forefront of public discourse, and a president get elected with a name like "Barack Obama." She knew that things could improve and that there is always cause to fight for change. She was not the type of woman to suggest we stop striving for a better tomorrow, but in that moment, she seemed to realize that there had never been a time in history where all was right with the world.
There's the looming threat of nuclear war with North Korea. Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico were all hit with deadly storms. Bali was evacuated for fear of volcanic eruption. The social media sites we've all become addicted to have been implicated in the ongoing investigation into Russian hacking. Racial unrest runs rampant throughout the country. And on top of all that, this week has delivered a fresh unveiling of formerly acclaimed Hollywood scumbags.
Some of these are new problems. Others are obstacles that have opposed every generation before us, proof that progress moves at a snail's pace. Regardless, I think it's safe to say the world is still going to shit.
But I think about what my grandma said and how she spent her whole life wondering if and how humanity might carry on. It may be blithe, but I find it oddly comforting to know that the world has always seemed to be on the brink of destruction. And if it turns out that this is truly Earth's eleventh hour, then at least we get to watch it all fall apart.