Boom! Robert Sumner/Getty Images

The first earthquake on Mount Rainier ominously rumbled on September 11. There have been 23 earthquakes since, the strongest of which had a magnitude of 1.6. But the scientists at the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington are telling us not to worry. They claim that this kind of seismic activity is normal and often means nothing. The volcano is just having one of those episodes. It had one last year, and another in 2009. The earthquakes will eventually stop, silence will return, and we will once again forget truth (the volcano) and just enjoy the illusion (a snow-capped mountain).

Fine. But here is the thing: We not only live near a volcano but also in the mood of our times. And what has structured this larger feeling is a sense of things falling apart. All around us, we see/read (on Twitter, Facebook, news websites) that indeed the worst of us "are full of passionate intensity." The poet Yeats wrote those words at the end of one global catastrophe and he died just as, to use words of Nabokov, "the gloom of yet another World War... settled on the globe." Seventy years after that white supremacist catastrophe, we find ourselves waking up to hear a Nazi being interviewed on public radio, as if he and his kind have something new and important to say. Or we read that a dotty Korean dictator with bad hair is sending Americans to the dictionary to figure out what the word "dotard" means. And the said dotard, an American who also has bad hair, is threatening to incinerate millions of people in a foreign land and is mad-bent on killing millions of his countrymen (there are no women in this man's mind) by pulling the plug on their health insurance.

Combine all of this political, geopolitical, and military madness with the otherworldly smoke of the wildfires, the island-flattening hurricanes in the Caribbean, the buildings collapsing in Mexico City, the floods in South Asia, and you have the right mood for a volcano to explode and destroy the homes and lives around it.

Exactly 14 years after the death our mother (September 20, 2003), my brother wrote on Facebook:

There need not be any concern over the apocalypse. Every person who has or will live has or will die; an apocalypse would give a rare seven odd billion of us the opportunity to die secure in the knowledge that there was nothing left to live for... it basically solves the human dilemma. I'm just sayin.’
I have not read something as bleak as that from a member of my family. And we lived through the Reagans and Star Wars. But he is where millions of us are today. These are those times.