de Vos: Starting over
December 20, 2012
I attended Arizona State University. “Attend” is a pretty loose term for what I actually did in college but I occasionally found myself in class. Over a long period of time and to the amazement of a village of professors, parents and the entire office of the Dean of Students, I graduated. The twin worlds of academe and serious study were overjoyed to see my backside.
But I am a product of the Southwest and did enjoy some graduate study on the Mayan written language. It is the only written language to originate in the pre-Columbian Americas. From the tip of South America to the top of Canada, the pre-European Mayans were the only ones writing down their history and genealogy and their stories of war, warriors and the gods who walked among them.
About1,800 years of written Mayan history were largely destroyed by the Spaniards when they invaded Mexico in 1521 A.D. What remains are a few painstakingly preserved scrolls and reconstructed fragments, haunting clues to a civilization that lasted far longer than Rome. Six million Mayan are alive today, remnants of the 22 million whom at first welcomed the Spaniards into their villages. The invasion caused an agonizing diaspora that drove survivors deep into the Yucatan, Guatemala and Belize.
The extant writings are intrinsically intertwined with the Mayan calendar. There was an overall common dating system found among neighboring cultures in the region such as the Olmec and Aztec. However, it was the Mayans who added an incredible level of precision and sophistication to the calculation of celestial events. Their lives revolved through complex cycles such as a 584-day cycle that tracked the first annual rising of Venus above the horizon, specifying on their calendars the exact night it would happen for the next 5,000 years.
Written Mayan is an exceedingly complex language with over 800 pictographs called glyphs, each carrying different meanings, nuanced information and encoded dates. Mayans did not live their lives like we do, in a never-ending string of days. They lived their lives like Ecclesiastes 3:1 prescribes, “. . . there is a time for every purpose under heaven.” Everything periodically renewed; they lived in a world of new beginnings
Back at ASU, it was noted without a lot of interest that December 22, 2012, would be the first day of 14th b’ak’tun, the start day of a new Mayan cycle that will go on for another 5,128 years before starting over. What we didn’t know then was that, the day before, on December 21, 2012, a cosmic alignment of all the planets combined with a black hole, and a comet, and a giant tornado, and a globe-washing tsunami would all come together to end life as we know it. Nor did we know that a brown dwarf planet named Nibiru was on an annihilation course with earth, adding insult to injury. And finally, who could have predicted that giant poisonous frogs would be breeding in a subterranean volcanic lagoon just waiting for today’s seismic fissure to release their bible-thumping vengeance upon the wicked, making both Santa and the fiscal cliff superfluous?
If, by chance, none of these things happen and tomorrow we collectively survive to face our own uncertain future, let’s face it bravely but with a bit more consideration for the other guy. Compromise is wisdom, not weakness.
And finally, best wishes for the holidays. Assuming there are any.