There he was, on a warm summer evening, smashing into the brick on my porch; drawn to the light, as they say.
His name, is “Antheraea polyphemus”.
That’s because of the eyes. Or, rather, eye. He’s named after the giant Cyclops in Greek mythology, who had only one large oculus in the middle of his forehead. The name hardly seemed fair when, clearly, this guy was staring at me with two beautifully blue peepers.
Yes, I know they’re only spots on the wings of a moth, but they were mesmerizing. They drew me to him, as the light had drawn him to my home. They seemed questioning. Introspective. They were asking me something about myself. Was I too, drawn to the light? It’s an interesting question, and not dependent on age. Any of us could ask it at any stage of life, but oddly enough there does seem to be a bit of science that suggests the answer, may indeed be influenced by our age.
A recent 2015 study from UMass Amherst researchers found that older people have both different and more positive responses to issues such as serenity, sadness, and loneliness. In her conclusions, study author Rebecca Ready said; “Older adults report feeling more serenity than younger persons. They also have a richer concept of what it means to feel serene than younger persons.” https://goo.gl/bw4BxX
Another, earlier, research effort used brain-scans to monitor the differences in perception between young and old, when judging human emotions.
That study, from Westmead Hospital in New South Wales, Australia, concluded that older people more accurately spot happy expressions while teenagers are better at identifying fearful expressions. http://goo.gl/P4zX31
And yet another bit of research revealed that our own attitudes toward aging can have a significant impact on our health. The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) from the Yale School of Public Health used brain scans over a 25 year period to conclude that people who have a negative attitude toward aging are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s, than those with positive attitudes. According to the research: “People who held negative age stereotypes had the same amount of decline in three years as the more positive group had in nine years.” In other words, those with negative attitudes declined at a rate three times faster, than their more positive peers. http://goo.gl/RghnBZ
An old quote attributed variously to Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli, and John Adams, goes something like this. ‘If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.’, and yet a careful study of the changing attitudes of Justices of the U.S. Supreme court indicates that age, has exactly the opposite affect when it comes to attitude. The authors looked at records dating back to 1937 and concluded that as time went on:” Drift to the right or, more often, the left is the rule, not the exception.” http://goo.gl/Puhjaf
But what does any of have to do with a guy, staring at a beautiful creature that has serendipitously arrived outside his door, on a lovely evening in spring?
Little perhaps, but as I watched the soft beating of the colourful wings, and stared into those “eyes”, I suddenly found my mind wandering in this direction: I am both a more gentle, and a more tolerant person, than I was in my younger years.
That’s not a boast, it’s just the truth. And it may tell you more about my past, than anything else. In all of my years as a reporter, it never failed to surprise me when word would drift back to me that people found me to be “aggressive”, “tough”, “intimidating”, or “difficult”. That was not my own self-perception, but it happened more often than I found comfortable.
There is no debating the fact that I may have had an instinctive aversion to authority, and an inherent habit of challenging the same, but that is not an uncommon character trait among journalists of any stripe. As time wore on, however, I found that I had less and less time, energy or desire for that kind of heavy lifting. It wasn’t so much a kind of surrender, as it was a realization that truly, you have to pick your fights in this world. Some causes are worth the barricades, but many are not. More often than not, the ones that aren’t worth the effort, are the ones that hinge on pride, ego, or just a pathological need to be “right”. Once you let go of those kinds of confrontations, you begin to find that the world is far more friendly and accommodating, than it used to be.
Something else seems to happen as well, as the years roll by. Suddenly, you find that you really don’t care whether you watch hockey, or your wife watches Downton Abbey. You’re not as disappointed when plans fall through, or go awry and, you’re more chagrined than angry, when your kid racks up a $200 parking tickets in your car, and doesn’t tell you anything about it, until you receive the ‘past due’ notice. ( Not that any of those things have ever happened to me. )
Suddenly, ‘yes’ seems to be a far more reasonable answer than ‘no’.
Forgiveness seems more appealing than a grudge, and acceptance is far more preferable than judgment.
I’m not sure why that happens, but it does.
And, like the Supreme Court Justices, I seem to be drifting further to the “left” on the political scale, as time goes on. In the first federal election in which I was able to vote, I voted for Conservative Robert Stanfield. In subsequent years, I also voted for Joe Clark, and Brian Mulroney. But these days, I’m wearing a Bernie Sanders T-shirt, and Elizabeth May is beginning to look more and more appealing.
Perhaps some of this can be explained, or at least summed up by a blog-posting from the COO of compassionateageing.org, Anthony Antoville. http://goo.gl/5lBrwL Antoville is the former Certified Long Term Care Ombudsman with the California Department of Aging, and author of a text book dedicating to improving the lives of long-term care residents.
Antoville has obviously done quite a bit of introspective thinking on the process of aging, and asks a question that I have occasionally asked myself: “Am I a person I would want to be around?” “Is age mellowing me, or am I just becoming a cranky old man?”
His answer, makes a lot of sense to me.
“So far, I have discovered that I have developed and refined the characteristics that I have picked up over time. Some are good and express attributes I would fondly wish to see in people close to me. Other qualities are less than desirable and not worthwhile to retain in any fashion, and I consider myself irresponsible when I perpetuate them in the world. We are presented with an endless stream of opportunities to shed what does not serve us and retain what we believe to be of use.”
Here’s my list, of those choices.
I’m fed up with trickle-down theories, free-trade economics, and policies that put corporate greed ahead of social need.
The economy, and acquiring things, aren’t as important as acquiring contentment, and peace of mind.
I find that despite the harrowing headlines, I don’t fear or hate Muslims, and believe that welcoming 25-thousand Syrian refugees to Canada, is simply a good start.
I’m not defeated by a horrendous fire in Alberta, nor a heart-breaking massacre in Florida; because I see hundreds and thousands of good people rising up to rebuild the homes and lives of people they will never meet, and expecting no reward for doing so.
I am deeply moved, humbled, and inspired by their commitment to generosity, and love.
I feel the pull of their compassion, and their selfless, positive energy.
Indeed, increasingly as time goes on, I find that I am drawn to the light.