Archive for May 30, 2017

Who Am I? 1.2 % Neanderthal!?

clinic-doctor-health-hospitalThis is the fourth in a series of “who am I?” posts. My curiosity is a factor of aging. Now that I’m no longer distracted by professional challenges, family duties or the need to earn a living, I find myself pondering more and more the wonder of being human in this amazing world. How is it that I fall asleep for eight ours each night and waken in the morning, oblivious to what’s happened during the night? How do I continue breathing twenty-four hours a day, even though “I” am not doing the breathing?

Recently I started wondering about how we, as the human race, developed.

If you’d asked me about my ancestry a few months ago, I’d have told you I’m the result of a long line of blond, blue-eyed men and women. My light-skinned forefathers and foremothers immigrated to Canada from England, Ireland and Scotland. They chose to settle in southwest Ontario. End of story.

That was before I sent my cheek swab and $100 to the National Geographic’s genome study. For my $100 they told me about other ancestors: those who predated written history.

Here’s what they said: My ancestry began in Africa. In fact, our whole human race originated on that warm continent. My particular group of ancestors migrated out of Africa around 60,000 years ago. They were the first group of modern humans to leave Africa. These early members of my tribe, who had dark skins, kept moving northward, eventually leaving the African continent completely. When they got to Europe they found a world that was covered in ice sheets. As the ice retreated they settled in whatever European lands were now habitable.

Life in a cold climate had its problem. Their dark skin blocked out too much of the weak sun’s vitamins. Over time, in order to survive in the cold their skin grew lighter and lighter so they could absorb Vitamin D.

Narrow noses replaced flared nostrils since breath had to be warmed before it hit the lungs. Of course, their relatives who remained in hot countries kept their dark skins and their physical adaptations to a hot climate.

78% of my ancestors ended in Great Britain and Ireland. 16% went to western and central Europe. The fascinating thing is this: my ancestors (and probably yours) weren’t the only inhabitants walking about on two legs. Our ancestors met with another hominin group, the Neanderthal. These two lines interbred. That’s how I ended up having a DNA of 1.2% Neanderthal. If your ancestors left sub-Saharan Africa for Europe and Asia, you too have some Neanderthal in your DNA. 2.1% is average. Interestingly, early humans who stayed in sub-Saharan Africa and did not migrate, have no Neanderthal DNA.

Other than finding I had Neanderthal ancestors in my lineage, there weren’t any big surprises: 12% Scandinavian, 9% Central European, 5% Southern European, 2 % Eastern European and 2% Jewish Diaspora.

Knowing the scientific history of our human species is important. How can we be racially biased now that we realize the colour of our skins results from adapting to the climate in which our ancestors lived? If some people remained dark-skinned in order to survive the blazing sun, while pale skinned people evolved to absorb sufficient energy from the sun, where’s the social judgment? We’re all the product of the human race’s ability to adapt in order to survive.

I’d like to hear from you. What do you think? Are you interested in having your own DNA analyzed? If you are, you can go to www.genographic.com.

Mary Maxwell on Getting Old


Hope you enjoy!

Who Am I Without My Husband?

pexels-photo-271897When I left my marriage I was in my late 70’s. For 55 years I’d been one half of a couple. Moving out to live on my own meant adapting to a whole new world as a single woman. What was that like for me? It’s easier to talk about the advantages of being on my own. The disadvantages are more subtle and harder to articulate.

Everyone can understand the freedom of organizing your own space and, indeed, living your whole life just as you want it. There’s the joy of waking in the morning and asking yourself what’s most important today and how to organize the time ahead. The only commitments are those you’ve agreed to. Nobody else is in your space asking for compromise or having other ideas of how you should spend your time.

Then there’s the living space that’s all yours. No need to put up with that ugly chair your partner loves: the one that takes up half the living room. Nor must you tolerate the mammoth oak desk that won’t fit anywhere but the dining room. When you live alone, you get to organize each room just the way you want it.

Bedtime? Getting up time? It’s entirely up to the single occupant of this space. You go to bed when it’s right for you and get up when your circadian rhythms signal you’ve slept long enough. What’s more, you sleep through the night without another body disturbing you. Naturally, you eat what, when you want.

There are many benefits to being single and, as I said, they’re easier to talk about than the downside. Mostly the downside has to do with loneliness. I found this especially uncomfortable when I was travelling alone. At night, the couples staying at my B&B would head for the fancy restaurants or the lively entertainment in the town square. I don’t know about you, but I head for plainer family-type restaurants when I’m alone. The dancing and excitement of the square at night felt unsafe for a single woman.

Then there’s something about male energy being a natural match for female energy. Frankly, I miss male company. I’m not sure whether this is biological in us humans. Maybe it’s social programming. Whatever it is, I miss my husband’s physical male presence. He’s also the one person in the world who can complete my thoughts and who shares with me more than 55 years of experiences and memories – which is not to say – I regret leaving my marriage to live alone. I don’t.

pexels-photo-233223Life is pretty good these days. Harvey and I are friends. We are both living the way we want to. He enjoys gardening and caring for the house we bought together in Kingston. I’m happy as a tenant in an apartment building. Every time I hear workmen out cutting the grass or shoveling the snow, I smile broadly, so happy that I didn’t have to hire them, organize them or pay them. All of that household stuff just gets done. You may remember my post about my “summer cottage.” (That’s the next-door yacht club where I get to eat and swim while somebody else does the work.)

It’s definitely desirable to be good friends following separation. It’s relatively easy for us since neither of us set out to give the other a hard time over financial settlements. In fact, the other day I went over to Harvey’s house to work with him on some financial matters. He cooked dinner for both of us and we ended by watching television and talking the way two old friends share time together. After all, I spent most of my life with him. Why not strive for a harmonious relationship now that we both get to live the way we want to?