Opinion: Embracing the Neanderthal within

I took the plunge and had my DNA analyzed. Turns out I’m a Neanderthal. That’s how my husband likes to say it, anyway. According to my 23andMe results, Neanderthal ancestry accounts for 2% of my DNA. The cool part is the results highlighted associations between Neanderthal variants and my traits.

My husband enjoyed this little nugget of information more than I can express. Two of my Neanderthal variants were associated with “having a worse sense of direction,” and just like that, my husband has joke material for life.

For me, it’s really interesting to not only see my ancestry but recognize myself in the traits identified while understanding they may have genetic roots.

For example, my affection for keeping meaningful things: I’m no hoarder, but Marie Kondo’s method of decluttering is not the path I tread. The Neanderthal variant that I was most intrigued with was the one “associated with having difficulty discarding rarely-used possessions.”

I definitely get attached to things. The items I hold on to each have a story. The storyteller in me knows that each item contains a memory, and whether it “sparks joy” or not, I want to honor its presence in my life. It could be as simple as the book of Grimm’s fairy tales that once belonged to my father, my mother’s high school class ring or even my grandmother’s sewing machine. All conjure specific images that help me hold them and honor them.

Sometimes, I know I will keep something forever the moment it is acquired. Take this weekend, for example. I watched my son chat with his grandmother about his newfound passion: rocks. This ended with grandma showing my son a lamp she had in an upstairs bedroom of a polar bear carved from white Mexican marble. She said he could take it home to use as a night light. Just like that, this item captured the love and memories of grandma’s house at the age of curiosity. It will always remind me of my son at 8 years old and his fascination with how rocks are formed.

So maybe most of these items I cling to do “spark joy.” But more importantly, they trigger memories and prompt a story. These mementos from life are so much more than clutter or just one more thing on an already full shelf. They are gifts that a full life brings. They are stories waiting to be shared.

If that makes me a Neanderthal, so be it. I’m grateful. I appreciate what I have — rarely used or not. I’ll embrace this trait in my ancestry, regardless of origin, and keep unlocking the details that help me fully discover all of what makes me me.

— Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a syndicated columnist with Creators.

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