Do you want to make your life fun again? I recently asked my circle of aging friends who seemed trapped in their everyday routine of waking up, having the usual breakfast, watching movies while waiting for lunch, taking a nap and watch more movies on TV while waiting for dinner and then calling it a day by 9 p.m.
Like how? They lethargically scoffed.
Pointing to their water bottles, I began to blitz them with “little knowns” about the water they were sipping. Do you know that that the water in your plastic bottle is the same water that thirsty dinosaurs were drinking about 65 million years ago? That’s because the water on our Earth today is the same water that’s been here for nearly 5 billion years. So far, the world hasn’t managed to create any new water!
I continued to inundate them with more. Do you know that humans use only 1 percent of the abundant water that exists on earth? How come? Most of the fresh water available are locked up in glaciers, polar ice caps, or too deep under the earth’s surface, or too polluted or inaccessible for practical use. The rest is undrinkable: salt water found in oceans.
With dramatic flourish, I asked them: remember the legend about a fountain that has the power to restore the youth of anyone who drinks from or bathes in its waters? One of them, normally forgetful, instantly remembered: that’s the fountain of youth! Everybody was now on the edge of their chair. Has it been found? Where? No one said anything but those questions were obviously on their minds as they all trained their eyes on me.
Forget the fountain, I told them, there’s this newly discovered sea creature, which has the ability to revert back to its juvenile larval form over and over. They call it “the immortal jellyfish” whose scientific name is Turritopsis dohrnii. Imagine, I teased them, if we can learn to apply the genetic code of that jellyfish to human beings, then we would have the Elixir of Youth that humankind has been yearning for. Soon, my friends, we can just pop a capsule to bring each of us back to being young again!
I saw their eyes light up, a sign that I succeeded in rousing my jaded mandarin friends from their usual tepidity and turned them into a captive audience. I was beginning to enjoy it. As they say, knowledge is power. Then tapping the table for effect, I gave them my little beatitude for the day: “Blessed are those who encounter surprising discoveries for every day will always have fresh possibilities, making life more fun and exciting!”
Indeed, the more I stumble upon unknown, obscure and even bizarre info bits, the more I realize that the world never ceases to be astonishing.
When you see images of the Milky Way through the James Webb space telescope or when you walk through St. Peter’s Basilica or on the Great Wall of China, don’t you get goose bumps? When you watch real footages of an electric eel bring down a mighty crocodile with 800 volts, don’t you marvel how it can do it? Why are you lost for words while gazing at a centuries-old work of art or a flock of geese flying in perfect V formation up in the sky?
That’s Awe. Dacher Kenter, a foremost expert on the science of emotions, defines it as “the feeling of encountering the presence of something vast that transcends our limited knowledge and understanding of the world.”
For those who have an open accepting nature, this lifetime is one great fabulous adventure. But even a lifetime isn’t long enough for the beauty and wonders that can be found in this world or the universe.
Knowing that there’s so much to know, to discover, and to find out in our world, my mantra for each morning is “life, surprise and fascinate me today.” And that’s what it does all the time, keeping me delightfully amazed.
Speaking of amazing, it is estimated that at least 15,000 new plant and animal species are discovered every year. And we’ve managed to scratch only the surface because in the animal kingdom alone, scientists have identified only 15 percent!
See if your mind can grasp this. Scientists estimate there are one trillion trees on Earth! That’s 12 times more trees on Earth than stars in the Milky Way, which contain 200-400 billion stars. So let’s have a little respect for trees before cutting them down.
Still on trees, do you know that acacia trees can warn each other of danger? It’s a unique defense system that has enabled them to survive through millions of years. When leaf-eating animals approach an acacia tree, it emits ethylene gas that can travel through the air to warn nearby acacia trees as well. This gives the acacia trees enough time to naturally produce more tannin on their leaves, making them toxic to eat.
From trees, let’s go to animals.
Do you know that the herds of the African buffalo practice democracy? Decisions on where to go are based on votes conveyed by their actions. The thing is, only female buffalos regardless of social status, can vote and make decisions for the group. They indicate their choice by standing up and staring in a direction then lying back down.
Who says there are no gay animals? In fact, male giraffes would rather be gay than straight. Around 90 percent of male giraffes prefer to mate with another male. According to animal behavioral scientists, this also acts as a method of establishing dominance in a pack.
Vengeance, thy name is tiger. Tigers are said to be the most vengeful animals on the planet. Research has found that tigers will seek vengeance on those that have wronged them. In one case, a tiger held a grudge for over 48 hours, then suddenly attacked and killed the hunters who tried to kill it.
We can go on and on but I think I’ve made my point. There’s an ocean of intriguing knowns and unknowns and our current knowledge is but a drop in the bucket.
In our youth, we loved to read Ripley’s Believe It or Not? which originally was a popular newspaper panel that featured bizarre people, strange and unusual events and occurrences and items. While some said most of it was not true, personally, it helped inspire a sense of “awe” and wonder, which has stayed with me even now. The movie “2001 Space Odyssey” did the same thing for me in my 20s.
We need to reclaim that feeling in old age. For one thing, it is good to be awed every single day. Why? Because it excites the cells of the brain and it is healthful to the body as well. Scientists believe that being awed may reduce the inflammation produced by our immune system, especially when we feel threatened, rejected or lonely. “Wild awe” is a basic human need, they claim, necessary for our health and happiness.
More than a human need, awe is a vital inner force in our lives. It is awe that drives us to know more and directs us toward grand ideas and new insights. It is awe that inspires us to create magnificent works of art. It is awe that instills in us respect and reverence for the natural world around us. Finally, it is awe that wants us to make the world a better place.
No age is too early or too late to pursue awe wherever it may be found: outside in nature, in historical and literary sources, scientific papers, or one’s own experiences. Stay open, curious, aware, wondering.
And in case you’re wondering how the world will end, it’s not with a whimper but with a big bang. Why? Scientists say that 4 billion years from now, our galaxy will collide with the Andromeda galaxy. Both galaxies are hurtling towards each other at a speed of 402,000 kph.
What an oh-some sight to behold! But that’s too far in the future. Stick to this lifetime. There’s enough to keep you constantly awe-struck! Who knows what delightful surprises tomorrow will spring on you!