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.


  1. Hey Kris,

    Funny that we would connect over a blog you have written. I think about the books you ordered several years ago from my bookstore "The Five People You'll Meet in Heaven." It seems like a long time ago in some ways, but in other ways, it might as well have been yesterday. Life is, uh, daily, that's for sure.

  2. Hey Kris,

    Another nicely written and very thoughtful piece. You're definitely going to be published one of these days. What you wrote brought to mind the book club selection at work - yes, I've joined the law firm's book club. We are reading Krista Tippett's book, "Einstein's God - Conversations about Science and the Human Spirit." Stay tuned. . .


  3. Hi Kris,

    Your comment on Facebook about prenatal testing/how much information is too much inspired me to write my latest blog post - about my thoughts on prenatal testing, given my current situation of a baby which likely has some kind of genetic disease. I don't know if you read it but you can check it out at if you haven't seen it yet...

  4. What an interesting contrast and comparison you've set up! I can only imagine the challenge your professor had trying to keep the class on task given all of the intriguing questions such a class would generate.