Dear Ezra and Lian,
I’m a sucker for poetry. There’s something about physically standing in the place something happened and reliving it in my mind. I love the movies “Field of Dreams” and “Saving Private Ryan” so when I had a year off to travel the world (1999-2000), I ran around the bases on a baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield and took a tour of the Normandy landing beaches. I dragged you to Gettysburg this summer because I will always be fascinated with men who can charge ahead into a hail of a bullets with bombs exploding around them. Reading about it or watching a movie about it, well, it never seems to be enough for me.
Leading up to Jan. 1, 2000, the beginning of a new millennium, there was a lot of apprehension. Older generations are trying to bury that fact. We are all kind of embarrassed about it, so we never talk about it or admit the real fears that we ourselves had, not just other people. The company I work for spent nearly a $100 million trying to fix a computer glitch that would happen on 12:01:01 am, January 1, 2000. Billions and billions were spent around the world on it. A lot of people got rich on something that turned out to be almost nothing. There were real concerns that power grids and communication networks would collapse at that moment because of the glitch. It was called Y2K (Year 2000).
I chose to take a year off work; April 1999-March 2000. I wanted to see what the world was doing to celebrate a new, coming millennium and prepare for Y2K. I had a great time. It changed my life. I wrote about my travels. However, a lot of people believed and millions more joked about it being the End of the World, at least as we knew it. It would begin the Apocalypse and lead to Armageddon. (I can’t explain that in 1 letter. We can talk about that another time.)
The 2nd week of December, 1999, I went to visit the island of Patmos. It is a beautiful small island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. I was pretty much the only tourist there. It was difficult to even find a hotel room. There is a Greek Orthodox monastery on the island. In the monastery, there is a cave. This is traditionally where it is believed St. John received the vision of the Apocalypse and wrote the book of the Bible, Revelations. So, of course, I climbed down the ladder into the bottom of the cave. I read the entire book of Revelations on the spot where John is supposed to have written it. I didn’t have any company for the entire time I was down there. The monks left me alone and there were no other visitors.
I left Patmos and travelled by ferry to Israel. Now, most normal people celebrated the biggest New Year’s Eve of their entire lives by having huge, huge parties. There were big celebrations and fireworks all around the world. I had an entirely different plan. If so many people thought Y2K was going to lead to Armageddon, I thought I would go to the place of Armageddon on January 1, 2000. I went to the archaeological site of Megiddo.
Of all the places on edge about Y2K, no place I visited was more apprehensive than Israel. I spent almost 4 weeks there around Christmas 1999 to January, 2000. The major newspapers and television stations were reporting that there was potentially going to be a mass suicide, in the tens of thousands, on the Mount of Olives. The Israeli government kicked dozens of people out of the country because of their fears. Not one person, Christian or otherwise, killed themselves on the Mount of Olives January 1, 2000. (I have never figured out the logic of why people would think Christians would kill themselves when Jesus descends from the sky. Maybe they think they will do it because he didn’t come back. Suicide, especially mass suicide, goes against orthodox Christian theology.)
On December 31, 1999 I was standing in front of the Western Wall of the Temple. I met a family there with one of their friends visiting from the US. They started telling me all this historical stuff. They were taking their friend on a tour of the old city of Jerusalem. They invited me along. (Every day in Israel for me was like that. I made new friends every day and we hung out and visited tourist sites.) This family were awesome tour guides. They showed me things I would normally never see or find. After a day of this, they asked me what my plans were for New Year’s Eve. I told them I only had New Year’s Day plans, really. I needed to get to Megiddo. They thought that was recklessly dangerous. However, they lived in Hadera (I think it was). They offered me a ride to there. I was only going to be 30 minutes away from Megiddo, so I said yes to the free transportation.
By the time we got there, it was late and I was tired. The family graciously invited me to spend the biggest New Year’s Eve of all time with them. Then I could sleep over and go to Megiddo first thing in the morning. It was a compromise from spending New Year’s Eve in Armageddon, but practicalities won out.
The family took me down to their basement to wait for the new millennium. I found out that they were completely ready for a breakdown in civil order. They were survivalists and they thought Y2K was going to lead to terrorist attacks or mob violence. They had food and water stocked up to last an entire year. They had a backup power supply. They had reinforced walls and bullet proof glass. They had enough automatic rifles and bullets to turn their house into the Alamo. They also had a .50 caliber machine gun on a tripod to fend off any serious attack. “Oh Lord, what have I got myself into?”
The family were completely nice and friendly. They fed me good food. I have no recollection of midnight on New Year’s Eve because I think I went to bed early to get up early. I got up before just about anybody. I ate breakfast and left for the bus station.
Now January 1, 2000 fell on a Saturday or a Sabbath. In Hadera, that meant no buses were running. I didn’t exactly feel like going back to my hosts to ask for a ride and Megiddo was close by. I walked to the edge of town and decided to hitchhike to Armageddon. It was remarkably easy to get people to stop to give me a ride. However, as soon as I said I was going to Megiddo, they would shake their head and press the accelerator to the floor and leave me behind in the dust. After this happened a few times, I realized I had to pick a town near to Megiddo and use that as my destination. My 30 minute bus ride turned into about a 3 hour trip, but I got let out at the intersection of Highway 65 and 66. I walked the last kilometre up Hwy 66 to Megiddo.
Megiddo is a tourist site. It was open. I was there the morning of January 1, 2000. I was almost the only one. I asked the person selling tickets if more people had been there earlier and she said no. I stayed there for hours. There might have been 3 Israeli families with children who came to visit that whole time. There was not a single soul who had camped out all night and was still waiting for the End of the World. There were not 1000’s of Christians waiting there for the world to end. There were not dozens of Evangelical Christians committing suicide because Jesus didn’t return. Nobody was trying to provoke the end of the world. Almost everybody on a Western calendar was sleeping in. I know because I was almost the only one who showed up for Armageddon to report the facts. There was nothing to report. I stayed and enjoyed the history and the archaeology.
There is a smear, a fear and a blood libel out there. This belief is growing in Canada. The big lie is that there is this big movement of “Dominionist” Christians. They hope and pray for a new Holocaust of Jews. They agitate for war in the Middle East, so that they can go to heaven or live on a New Earth. Despite any evidence, this is the true doctrine of Evangelical Christians. They are dangerous and anything done to control or eliminate them, is something well done. It’s a lie, but it was a pervasive fear January 1, 2000. I had a front row seat for Armageddon. Not only was there nothing to see, there was no one to watch it with. If there was any truth to the rumours and lies now, there would have been at least one person there then. There wasn’t even a single police officer on hand.
Up the road from Hadera, there was a major terrorist attack in Netanya on 27 March 2002. My New Millennium hosts weren’t entirely crazy to be prepared for a violent attack. It had nothing to do with Y2K, though. Being prepared and being overcome with fear are not the same. Be careful how you prepare for danger, it could cause you to do some very stupid things.