10:7 It Begins with a Whimper

Season 10, episode 7: The Pyramid at the End of the World

DOCTOR: The end of your life has already begun. There is a last place you will ever go, a last door you will ever walk through, a last sight you will ever see, and every step you ever take is moving you closer. The end of the world is a billion, billion tiny moments. And somewhere, unnoticed, in silence or in darkness It has already begun.

When our little worlds that we have constructed come crashing down, we often assume it is the result one major event. We begin to divide our life into two distinct phases: the “before” phase and “after” phase.  We look fondly at the “before” stage-where everything seemed perfectly normal. Life was good or at least stable and predictable.  we had certain beliefs and relationships that we were so sure about, and we understood our world. The larger world is tough and unpredictable but we each have our own little worlds where we go for comfort. But the “after” phase is filled with pain, uncertainty, chaos. Our little worlds are ripped apart and the compass we used to guide us no longer works.  We wish we could turn back time and stop that one major event from occurring. But the reality is, major events are the cumulation of thousands of smaller events.   Catastrophes rarely come out of nowhere-instead they accumulate over the months and years.

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At first the Doctor assumes that the end of the world that the Monks foretold is going to come via a break out of World War III. After all, he monks placed a pyramid right smack dab in the middle of a hotspot where Russian, Chinese, and American soldiers are stationed. The assumption, not entirely invalid, is that somehow an event will be triggered that will cause infighting amongst the countries with the three greatest armies. Moreover, all three countries are nuclear powers (out of the three, China supposedly as the least. Though when it comes to nuclear war, you don’t need many cause to global disaster) . Additionally, the US, Russia, and China are allied with other countries that have access to nuclear weapons. This is the type of war that would make the previous global wars look like small skirmishes in comparison.

MONK: The human race is about to end. The chain of events is already in motion. Life on Earth will cease by humanity’s own hand. Observe. 

But of course, such an event is almost a bit too obvious. I mean, most of us, if we know that a major catastrophic event is going to happen, will try to do whatever we can to avoid it. If I see a car heading towards me and I have time to step out of the way, that is exactly what I am going to do. But if it is dark, foggy, or storming outside and I can barely see two feet in front of me or hear the sound of an approaching car, chances are I won’t see the vehicle until seconds before impact. In a similar way, the Doctor points out that the monks are using misdirection.  They want humanity to focus on the obvious threats while allowing smaller threats to go unnoticed until it is too late to stop them. What the Doctor and the others need to look out for is something small that has the potential to snowball into a global event.

In real life, we often focus on the major life catastrophes that can come out of nowhere: freak accidents, major illnesses, terrorist attacks, mass shootings. Yet even those major events are composed of thousands of smaller incidents that went unnoticed. Safety instructions that were discarded, misread medical reports, individuals who are acting a bit off. Yet we don’t pay attention until the event is so beyond our control that there is nothing we can do to stop it.

This weekend a part of my world shattered. A former mentor, someone I trusted, someone I cared deeply about, someone who had guided me through some of my difficult moments in grad school was recently arrested and charged with a crime. Without going into details-this crime, was not a “victimless” crime and from the little bit that has leaked out, it also doesn’t appear to have been a one-time thing. The behavior sees to have been repetitive and compulsive and something that this person kept well hidden, until eventually the actions came to light.

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I thought I knew this person. Yes we hadn’t really talked since I graduated, but still. I knew this person. I had worked with this person. I had long conversations, lunches, and even spent Christmas with their family. Yet I couldn’t see this coming. There are some people I know who it wouldn’t surprise me if they got in trouble with the law. It would be sad, but it would also be one of those, “I didn’t know this person would do this, but I’m not surprised.” Not so with this person. And I’m left wondering, how could this happen? This person has destroyed his life and shattered those of his loved ones. I can’t help but ask, “why” and “how could they let things get so bad?” I don’t have answers to those questions but I imagine that when the behavior started, it started off small. It started off as a mistake or as something that wasn’t a big deal, let alone illegal. And it probably didn’t impact this person too much. This person kept going to school, working, raising a family, etc. But somewhere along the line-things changed. It became a compulsive behavior that took over their life. It laid waste to everything that they had not just once but multiple times. Their career, their family, and future plans were destroyed. The fall seems so sudden to those of us who are watching from the outside, but I can imagine that for this person, the fall was a long time coming.

DOCTOR: And whatever it is will kill all life on Earth, not just humans. Plague discriminates. So this isn’t a plan, it’s a mistake. Somebody, somewhere, is doing something that’s about to blow up in everybody’s face. 

In this episode, the Doctor has to try and look beyond the obvious for what could spark a global disaster. The notion of a bio-chemical attack is obvious, but the Doctor rejects the notion that this would be an intentional action. The problem would not be in some lab where infectious disease are created or where top-secret military biological weapons are kept and/or tested. No, it would be the result of a small, almost indiscernible accident. This is how disasters often start. Small, unimportant incidences take on a life of their own. Mistakes become habits. Habits become addictions. And before anyone knows what it is happening the truth comes out and people’s worlds are shattered. It’s not a global catastrophe but for those involved, the world they once knew is obliterated. And the blast impacts numerous people from the center to the periphery.

I thought I knew this person. I thought my bullshit detector was pretty good. But the person who was arrested is a stranger.

Doctor: …Long story short, misplaced decimal point resulting in a bacteria that turns any living thing it touches into gunk. 
BRABBIT: So why is it going to end the world? Has it been dispersed already? 
DOCTOR: Ah, no, it’s still in the lab. I think I can contain it. 

In the episode, the only way to contain the bacteria was to destroy it. But even then, the Doctor’s previous actions-specifically his lying to Bill about being blind, has its own unintended consequences. Bill isn’t going to let the Doctor die so she gives the monks consent to rule the world.

Likewise, it is the little actions, the hidden actions, the little events that make up life that can quickly create a monster that unwittingly destroys your life and the lives of those you love. Little mistakes quickly add up. Things done in secret, often come to light.  And at a certain point, it becomes difficult if not impossible to stop what you have started. I still care about this person and always will. I pray that this person receives the help that they need. I pray for their family and friends who must be devastated. I believe in a God that loves everyone. I believe God loves this person, their victims, and their family and friends. I pray that this person knows how much God still loves them. I pray that their victims know that God never abandoned them. I pray that someway, somehow, all those involved will use what occurred to help others-particularly those in danger of being taken advantage of and abused.

As for me, picking up the pieces is not an option because that assumes that what was broken can be recreated in this case that is impossible. I’m left wondering, who can I trust now? (Yes yes, God, but let’s be real, we also need other humans). Can I trust myself and my judgments about other people? People have let me down so often, I’ve been abused, neglected, and abandoned by those who were supposed to care for me. And then this happens. And I wonder, where and when along the way could this have been stopped before things got so bad?

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