The tour guide said he was Mayan. He looked Mayan although I didn’t know what that meant exactly. He talked about being short and about his Mayan nose, calling it a Roman nose. He also talked about language, how he grew up speaking Mayan and Spanish. It never occurred to me that there was a Mayan language that was still spoken on the earth. I assumed that it was gone with the people. But apparently neither was gone, the language or the people.
He seemed at home at the Mayan ruins in Cozumel like he’d spent holidays there as a child. He seemed to know every inch of the place, what might have happened on the stones where we stood, hundreds of couples married at once he said at the wedding altar. As he talked, I could see the couples waiting though the vast lawn was empty now, the tourists in the group collected around the edges where there were hints of shade.
Later, walking, he talked about the wonder of the Mayan calendar. He described the structure of the calendar and then joked about how so many people believed that the Mayans had predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012. Some people prepared for it, the end of the world, making peace with their relatives and storing the china underground. But December 21, 2012 came and went. The world kept spinning. Life went on. Our guide laughed at it all.
“December 21st, 2012 wasn’t the end of the world. It was the end of the calendar.”
That was just simply as far as the Mayans got before they quit chiseling. Maybe they ran out of rock. Maybe creating dates a thousand years hence just wore them out, became boring beyond human comprehension and so figuring no one would be around to really care they knocked off at December 21, 2012. Enough was enough.
I’ve told this story a dozen times. No one seems as struck by it as I am. I haven’t sorted out what it means – it wasn’t the end of the world, it was the end of the calendar – although I keep saying it in my head while we’re driving along or watching a baseball game.
Late this afternoon, we took a walk at White Tank Mountains Park northwest of Phoenix. A sign on the trail explained the succession of indigenous people who had lived nearby including the Hohokam Indians who were thought to have disappeared, in fact, the word “Hohokam” means “those who have vanished.” The sign’s narrative went on to say that modern-day Indians take exception to the presumption that the Hohokam disappeared. They moved somewhere, they say, and their descendants are probably on the earth this very minute. Another instance of it wasn’t the end of the world, it was the end of the calendar.
How many other things are like that, I wonder. Things we think are one thing but are really just the end of the calendar. I bet there are dozens. Hundreds. There isn’t enough time to sort them all out but at least I have started.