Saturday, March 20, 2010

Biology and English are not always on the same page. Well, to be honest, they aren’t generally in the same part of the library. So what’s a writer doing in a human genetics class? Learning.

It’s required. Everyone has to take a little bit of everything. It’s true. I admit it. I would never have chosen a Science course for an elective. Left to my own narrow-minded choices I would have taken a literature class or a writing class or even an art class. But Science? No, thanks. I’ll pass.

But to pass this level, I couldn’t pass this class and so now I’m just trying to pass.

And finding a whole new world to explore.

Writers are, after all, thinkers who express their thoughts and hope someone understands. Scientists are thinkers who explore their thoughts and hope someone can communicate them.

I guess we’re not so far apart after all.

This particular Science course is student-ed by a rather interesting cross-section of women. Several are divorced, but not all. Most have kids, but not all. Some have had great difficulties with marriage, divorce, pregnancies and kids, but not all. We talk about those things in this class as we explore the link between past, present and future through DNA diagrams.

There have been confessions of small-minded frustration. Admissions, and repentance, of personal bigotries. Dissections of character splayed on reflections of ourselves. What would we do if we could choose to have a perfect child? What do we think about knowing things our grandparents feared? How far would we search and how much would the answers be worth?

Human genetic research has made us consider what we’re made of.

Our professor tries to guide the learning and discussion and, I fear, has found curiosity has a life of its own in this class. Well-planned lessons fall behind as the learners push and pull the knowledge from her and one another. There are things we must know to say we have been here, but then there are things which we are taught here unexpectedly. For example, what it feels like to struggle through infertility; how an adopted child considers their biology; the fear of family history.

It stretches our minds as we try to wrap our intelligence around the idea that miniscule strings coiled within our cells map out our identity. Whether we have blonde hair or brown; we are tall or short; we will have early onset Alzehimer’s or clear minds and wasted bodies. It’s there!

The value of a human life, marred or perfect, has been the elephant in the room. The idea of a perfect genetic race is not new to mankind. It seems we humans have no lack of the superiority gene. Yet, when considering our own imperfections balanced against someone else’s perceptions, we can’t help but wonder if we are invalid. What determines the value of a human life? Or Who?

We toss about hypotheticals questioning our own ideas. What would we do if we could know it all? For ourselves? For our children?

But do we want to know all of it?

What will we do with that knowledge? If we can obtain it? Because who can afford it? Not me. Not now, for sure.

Or does looking at my family pedigree tell me all I need to know? I am likely to be overweight, depressed, diabetic, have heart disease and die in my 60s. That’s what my family tree says. Of course, I can watch what I eat, keep a positive mental attitude (prayer, helps, of course), and get hit by a truck tomorrow.

There are no guarantees. We are given this life to live and live we ought.

I’d like to know the worst case scenario for my future health. I’d like to be able to prepare myself and my family and make sure I don’t become someone’s problem.

I don’t think it would change my lifestyle. I would still try to live fully each day. To enjoy the blessings as they unfold, to sorrow the sadness when it crosses my path, to love lavishly, to serve God as well as I’m able. That’s the core of my life, honestly.

The more I consider the details of creation, the more convinced I become that Someone has set it all in order. To me, Science proves creation was on purpose.
All these thoughts are those which I see written around the beakers, the test tubes, the micro-needle-looking-holder-things, the PowerPoint slides, the textbooks and laptops. I may never understand the modes of inheritance or get a correct probability, but I have learned to articulate the value of life.

That’s knowledge to pass on.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Before I Know It . . .

I over heard someone say today, “I’m 59 and ½. Before I know it, I’ll be 60.”

It occurred to me that my dad was that age once. Looking at 60, but not quite there.

And then he wasn’t anymore.

I wonder what he thought of his life.

Was he glad for the choices he made? He was always smiling.

Was he sad for the doors he closed? He was always going.

Did the anger fill his thoughts? It spilled from his words like a vile poison, acidly eating away at his peace.

You could see it in his eyes. Bluer than blue; colder than ice.

You could feel it in the tension around his smile; gripped, tightly held inside.

His strong, large hands shook when he talked about some things, some people.

Nervously they gripped his Zippo lighter, his cigarette or strummed on the table extending energy in measured bites.

Did he ever consider the other days?

The tickly, laughing, giggly days? When his daughters walked on his back to relieve the stress of life and his son strode beside him?

“That’s nuts.” And he’d laugh. A deep, sarcastic, throw-your-head-back and guffaw laugh. “Oh jeez!” tears falling down his face and laughing, laughing, laughing.

Did he remember the one wedding dance? The one where he wore the suit we picked for him? The one where he posed for pictures with his lovely teen-age daughters? The one where pride puffed his chest until he was cockier, jauntier than all the other dads in pictures?

Did he look back to those days when he looked ahead to 60 and wish to re-live them?
Or did he only see the trouble, the loss, the heartaches playing over and over? Did he feel the kicks that life dealt him and sink beneath their darkness?

Were there too many seasons between the living and the existing? Were there too many blank pages? Too much aloneness? Too much burden?

I wasn’t there. I don’t know what the record of his days holds. Time, circumstance, apathy pushed a gulf between us that I didn’t cross.

I would give anything to go back to those days and help him re-write the story. To fill in the missing places with memories and peace. To overshadow the sadness with contentment. To share his grandsons’ accomplishments and joys. To let his hands carry them from past to present.

But I can’t. It’s too late. The book is written, the cover is closed.

I hope I’ve learned the lesson of his life so when I’m looking at 60 the air is clouded with children’s voices, graceful hands and contented sighs.

Today, 60 is far away and my life is rich. I know I must keep investing, continue sharing, love lavishly with arms wide open. Teach and guide and learn and grow.

Today is my present from the Lord, the Author and finisher of my faith.

Today I will live completely so when my book closes, the fullness of my life pushes the cover open again and again.