A conversation with a New Zealander minutes before the world is supposed to end

Harold Camping, the 89-year-old leader of the Family Radio network and driving force behind the May 21 Judgment Day prophesy said that the beginning of the end would be marked by a massive earthquake in New Zealand at 6:00pm NZST.

Having made a few friends over there while working in 2009, reporter Jeff Winkler decided to call one of them up a few minutes before it was all about to end. This is a transcript of their conversation.

Simon: Simon speaking.

Jeff: Simon, it’s Jeff. What time is it?

It’s about a quarter of, I think.

A quarter til?

Yeah. So about that. … When is the end of the world happening?

There’s suppose to be a massive earthquake in New Zealand, 6:00pm your time. It’ll be bigger than the one in Japan.

Oh ok. Well, that’s not good.

Well, I’m in Christchurch at the moment. So that’s kind of the epicenter for New Zealand quake activity for the past six months. So if it’s going to be anywhere it’s probably going to be here.

Yeah you said you’re still getting aftershocks?

Yeah, we get them every now and then. We’re suppose to get another in the next couple of days. Hopefully there’s not one tonight. It’ll scare a lot of people.

Look, it’s like 2:00am on Saturday here, so I’m not going to lie: Your last conversation could be with a drunk American wearing a silk robe. I apologize for that. Seriously. [The sound of a can opening cracks over the speakerphone.]

It’s ok.

So everything seems calm?

Well, I’m pretty much in the heart of suburbia so I’ll just go out into the middle of the road and report back on what it looks like. …

It’s a Saturday evening so not much is happening out. Let’s see, the school is next to me. No one’s there! And yeah … It’s pretty much a normal Saturday night so far.

Everything seems calm and chilled out.

I just want to say, if this really is our last conversation, I just want you to know that I had a great time hanging out with you during the few months we worked together at the Wanganui Chronicle and I wish we had hung out more. And if the world doesn’t end I want you to get back to writing.

I appreciate that and I feel the same way.

[We catch up on what he’s been doing for the past two years since we both left the same New Zealand paper. He said journalism was too much work for too little pay, blah blah blah]

 

If the world ends, what are you going to be doing?

If the world ends, we’re going to spend the night playing board games and drinking beer. It’s not the worst way to go out.

That’s how you’d spend your final hours?

Sadly yes, that’s how it would be.

Could be.

Right. Playing Trivial Pursuit and drinking beer and yeah, just enjoying life I guess. I’d like to think there’s some grand thing I’d do before I die but I’m … pretty happy.

It’s funny … and you probably don’t want to get too serious, though.

No, I do! If the world is about to end, this is the perfect time to get serious!

Well being here for the last couple of earthquakes, it kind of makes you realize that there’s so much in life you can’t control that it almost seems foolish to be worrying about the grand scheme of things and where you’re gonna end up.  The best you can do is try to do is … try to go along.

Have you started drinking already?

Sorry, I can’t hear you.

How is everyone doing down there? I saw the pictures of what happened to the Christchurch Cathedral. It broke my heart.

It was remarkably lucky that no one was in the church at the time, or rather no one died actually in the church. At first they reckoned that it was going to be 25 bodies but they did the whole search and rescue thing and they found no remains. It was amazing.

The central city is still locked down … so we don’t have a functioning city center. There’s still a lot of people out of work. For the most part, though, people have been remarkable about it. There’s no sense of feeling sorry for yourself, any kind of moaning. Obviously there’s a few people trying to take advantage of the situation, trying to get their hands on something that they can. But for the most part, everyone’s got each others back. It’s something I haven’t experienced before, this real community atmosphere and spirit going on and the sense that we can do it together. Does that make sense?

Yeah … So that’s what Kiwis are going to be like if the world ends? Just loving each other and getting together? That’s beautiful!

I hope so.

So who exactly is making this prediction?

So I guess you haven’t heard much about it then? No big news splashes about this May 21 Judgment Day in the New Zealand press? It’s been the biggest news here since … it’s Biblical. [I explain Harold Camping, his predictions and the followers]. I think he was wrong in 1994. But this time he might be right.

He might be right? I definitely heard about it before you sent me those links. It’s been in the newspapers here and on TV. Obviously, no one here’s been taking it seriously here. Are people taking it seriously there in the States? Here it’s just a comedy piece for people to laugh at.

I’m glad we could bring your country laughter. I mean, I talked to someone in D.C. who was pretty serious about it.

Now is it just their sect which is its going to hit them or is it all Christians?

Well, I mean, it’s the entire world. It’s Judgment Day. The Second Coming.

Oh. Ok.

So none of them in New Zealand?

To be honest, I haven’t encountered any. I guess being in Christchurch they don’t have a city center to congregate, so it’s harder to find them. I haven’t seen them.

After the earthquake there was a guy who claimed he could predict earthquakes based on the where the moon was and the tides, and like that, which was a complete croak of shit obviously. And he was laughed out of  …. yeah, no one took him seriously at all in the scientific community but he still got media attention. He was in the paper and was on Campbell Live and all the talk shows. And that’s why some people went to that just because they didn’t know any better and they were terrified. They say said they’d rather take the chance leaving Christchurch with no earthquake than staying in Christchurch and there being an earthquake and regretting not leaving.

It kind of reminds me of a bit of that.

Are you a man of faith?

No, I think of myself as agnostic. I don’t have enough faith to know anything.

So what keeps you going? Like through all the earthquake destruction? You seem to be keeping it together.

What do you do after something like that? You just try and be there for other people who are going through a tough time. I don’t know, it’s strange. It’s impossible to reaction or to say how you’re going to react until you go through something like this …

The Rapture?

The earthquake.

Ultimately, I think people are a lot more caring than they give themselves credit for and things tend to work themselves out. It sounds cheesy I know, but the only way is to keep it in perspective. Say, you know, well maybe 200 people died in Christchurch. Well how many died in Japan? It’s like tens of thousands. How many people died in Haiti? I think there was close to a hundred thousand. If you look at this way, you know, this isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to you in your lifetime, then you’ve lived a pretty good life. So if it’s going to end tonight, I’ll take that deal.

You’re so zen!

Well, you kinda have to! There’s no use being negative about it.

Ok, what would your last meal be?

Well, actually we’re making pizza. I think we’re making a Mexican pizza with like beans and refried things and avocado and capsicum.

Last secret you had to tell somebody? Like you had to tell one secret before the end.

… Aren’t you trying to publish this? So I can’t be too ….

Ok. Ok, would you spend all your money right before the End of the World, or go about your normal routine?

Well, if I was 100 percent certain that the world was going to end I guess, as long as there was somewhere open to spend it and I could access the money to spend it, I guess I would spend it.

Simon, you’re being way to technical right now.

Ok, yes. I would spend it. Definitely.

What time is it?

It’s like a quarter past six. So if it hasn’t happened by now, it’s probably not going to happen.

Oh, well that’s … nothing there?

Nothing yet. No aftershocks, no nothing. Nothing at all. Just a perfectly calm night.

Well in that case, I’m wasting minutes. I’ll call you back before six o’clock my time.

Well that sounds good man, see you on the other side, I guess.

— Originally published May 21, 2010. Read the real thing here.
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