Penkava: Never trust a Mayan calendar maker

Yesterday was the 21st of December. According to the Mayan calendar, there’s not supposed to be a today. Shucks. I thought I’d get the day off.

Actually, my editor made me write a column for today even though I told him that the Mayans said to forget it. I bet the editor of the Northwest Yucatan would have been more understanding.

But, be that as it may, the idea of a cataclysmic doomsday has generated worldwide interest. A Reuters survey showed that an average of one in 10 people around the world believes in the Mayan calendar and its prediction. If we applied that statistic to this newspaper’s readership, that means about 3,000 people are shocked to be reading this column today. I guess that’s not too bad if you compare that number with the 30,000 who normally read it and suffer shock anyway.

But I got to thinking … maybe there’s a good reason why the Mayan calendar stopped on Dec. 21, 2012. From what I understand, this calendar was carved onto a round rock called the Mayan Sun Stone. What if they simply ran out of space on the rock? I can imagine the conversation …

Mayan #1: Um, Coaxoch, I’ve got a problem here with the Sun Stone.

Mayan #2: What’s the problem, Xochiyotl?

Mayan #1:  I’ve got the calendar done up to 12/21/2012, but there’s no more room on the stone to go any further.

Mayan #2: That’s OK … it’s not like it’s the end of the world. Just put the rest on another stone.

So what if our friend Xochiyotl actually did continue his calendar project on another rock? Well, guess what? It appears that he did. Doing a little research, I came across news articles that talked about a discovery in Guatemala. In the ruins of an archaeological site named Xultun, another Mayan calendar was discovered.

Scientists there have found several columns of numbers and symbols written on a wall that chronicle cycles of astronomical events that correspond to a time far into the future. David Stuart, an archaeologist from the University of Texas, observed, “The Mayan Calendar is going to keep going for billions, trillions, octillions of years. Numbers we can’t even wrap our heads around.” So, folks, the writing is on the wall ... and it’s a loooooooog story!

I suppose there are some lessons we can learn from all of this. First of all, I’m never going to believe everything I see in the movies. Take Columbia Pictures’ movie “2012.” In it when Woody Harrelson’s character Charlie talked about polar shifts and the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar, it sounded so real. Toss in the mention of Earth crust displacement and seismic activity, and it was like reading a science textbook. And it even had Amanda Peet in it! Geesh.

Another thing I should have done is compare a photo of the Mayan Sun Stone calendar with that of an Oreo cookie. When you look at them side-by-side, they are strikingly similar. And we didn’t start freaking out about a global catastrophe when we dipped one of those chocolate beauties in a glass of milk, did we? The only thing prophetic about an Oreo is I predict that after you eat one, you’ll want another.

So I guess my editor was right when he told me to write a column for this week. And those Mayans, they were right, too. Maybe we just need to have a little optimism and focus on positive things. Except I just read on the Internet that NASA now is predicting a total blackout on the Earth on Dec. 23 to 25. Something about some sort of massive alignment of the universe. Golly, where’s Xochiyotl when you really need him?

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He is currently stocking up on batteries for his flashlight, just in case. He can be reached at 

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