LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

One more day to live: If tomorrow marked the end of the world, how would you spend your last day on earth?

LaReeca Rucker
The Oxford Eagle

If Myrtle resident Belinda Davis had only one more day to live, she would wake up and cook the best meal she had ever prepared, invite loved ones to her home, laugh with them and pray. They'd travel to her father's house, the place she loves best, and reminisce about their lives together and future in heaven.

"I would stay in touch with the world by cell phone, reaching out to my family and friends that were not with me," she said. "I would end the day with hugs, a prayer and a huge piece of chocolate."

If tomorrow was the last day of Ridgeland lawyer John Moore's life, he would spend it with his wife and children (ages 1 and 5), "doing all the things my kids love to do — playing outside, eating junk food and laughing with each other. We would ride bikes, play on the swing-set, eat whatever we wanted and enjoy our time together."

And if Alan-Michael White of Dumas knew he had only one more day to live, he'd let loose and get wild.

"Maybe I'd go to one of my favorite places to eat and generally indulge in rampant hedonism," he said. "I'd call old friends, remember the good times, spend some time with family, reflect on the futility of human existence.

"I wouldn't stray far from home, you know, in case someone needed me for emotional support when the full gravity of just how pointless everything that ever happened was hits them.

"I'd probably eat, drink and play cards, maybe watch a movie, if we could decide on one. Probably some hand-holding would be going on, because that stuff's kind of important.

"I'd probably watch the 'Daily Show' and 'Colbert Report' if they were new, but it'd be a heck of a time to catch up on my DVR backlog. I'd listen to NPR though. Watch how the world ends, I guess? Like, see if we get erased slowly or something, or if the universe just stops existing around us slowly, like that episode of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' where Dr. Crusher was stuck in a collapsing warp bubble.

"In that case I might spend my day running away from whatever anomaly is causing the world to disappear."

Breaking news: You have one more day to live.

Tomorrow is Dec. 21 — the day a cycle of the Mayan calendar ends. And if you are one of the people who believes that means the world is ending, chances are you've already created a doomsday kit and stockpiled your bunker with zombie apocalypse supplies.

In recent years, the Mayan calendar's ending cycle has played a role in pop culture, fueling a number of catastrophic end-time movies and television shows, but experts say "relax." The world will keep on spinning just like it has the past 4.5 billion years.

"All this woo-hoo is from hearsay and a few New Age people thinking the Mayans predict the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012," said Angelle Tanner, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Mississippi State University. "The Mayans don't even believe this. It's just when one of the cycles of their calendar flips over."

George J. Bey III, one of the world's leading Mayan archaeologists and a professor of anthropology at Millsaps College, said if tomorrow was his last day, he'd spend it at home with his family.

"I doubt my kids would stay home with me, because they know this whole world ending thing is not true," he said. "They would think I am just trying to trick them into hanging out with their mom and dad."

Bey said the Mayan calendar is another opportunity for people to think about the end of the world, even though the calendar has nothing to do with it. The Maya developed a sophisticated calendrical system that allowed them to monitor the cycles of the moon, sun and stars. And they had several different calendars used for telling time and ritual purposes, such as a 260-day calendar and a 365-day calendar.

"Like us, the Maya developed one calendar that was anchored at a starting point in time," Bey said. "This calendar is called the Long Count, and it began on the mythical day of the current Maya creation cycle, 4 Ahau 8 Kumk'u (Aug. 11, 3114 BC).

Friday, the calendar will reach the end of its cycle and begin again.

The idea that the world will end when it restarts is preposterous, Bey said.

"Mostly because the Maya themselves never wrote about the world ending when the 13 baktun cycle ends," he said. "They made predictions of time far into the future after the end of this cycle, such as predictions of eclipses. They also had larger cycles of time that continue beyond the 13 baktun cycle."

Bey said researchers recently discovered the house of a Mayan scribe in Guatemala that had calendrical formulas on the wall of his house past Friday's date.

"So, there is no archaeological or epigraphic data to support the idea the Maya thought the world would end on Dec. 21," Bey said.

"In fact, the evidence indicates they believed just the opposite."

Some, however, won't be convinced.

"I think there are people who will believe what they want to believe," he said. "They will associate this Maya date with other kinds of information they are looking for, such as the alignments of the planets or information from other cultures around the world. There will be people prepared for the world to end."

Others will use it as a reason to have a party.

"I know that in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, they have been preparing for 'end of the world' tourism," Bey said.

Millsaps professors are counting on the fact that we'll still be around tomorrow. They are offering a course on Maya religion and ideas of the apocalypse in the Yucatan over the winter break.

Thomas M. Kersen, a Jackson State University sociology professor, said end-time narratives have long captured the imagination of people.

"Frequently, religious sects, cults, and even communal activity increase during heightened end-time sentiments, such in the first millennia in Europe, and in the 1890s in the United States," he said. "Oftentimes, these surges are associated with disasters, epidemics, war and downturns in the economy.

"If history is a guide, end-time predictions fail (even secular ones such as Y2K), and newer ones will capture the public's imagination. And, these predictions will be especially alluring during rough times for many people."

Bennie H. Reynolds III, visiting assistant professor of religious studies at Millsaps, said if tomorrow was his last day, he'd probably spend it "like many other days — explaining to people why the world is not, in fact, going to end (for 5-6 billion years). But if we had a genuine 'Melancholia' situation, I'd hold my family close."

While apocalypticism can be found in many times and places, it is a quintessentially American religious attitude, Reynolds said.

"Evangelical Christians tend to read biblical texts, such as the books of Daniel and Revelation, as real prophecies that are addressed to them and their time. They read themselves into the story and thus place themselves on the verge of a radical upheaval in which the powers of this world are overthrown and those who have been marginalized are empowered."

Jim Becker, president of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jackson, said if tomorrow was his last day, he would go to the country and be grateful for how the planet has sustained him and the lives of his loved ones.

"In fact, we intend to hold an end-of-times weenie roast in the woods on the evening," he said. "With our thinking minds, we homosapiens are both blessed and cursed with the ability to even consider such things as a doomsday. If we were like other species, we would not ponder such preposterous concepts."


The Journalism Portfolio of LaReeca Rucker