DNA is a funny thing. It doesn’t kick in all at the same time. That’s why, as a toddler, you can be the spitting image of dad, but by the time you’re 30, you look like a clone of your maternal grandmother. When you are old, you look in the mirror and say … “Mom??” Because she died years ago, yet there she is. Alive. In you.
We carry the physical imprint of our ancestors. It’s obvious and visible.
Less evident are the emotional footprints left in our psyches. Positive and negative, our parents and many others change us, leave bits of themselves behind for us to absorb. Good and ill. Relationships and marriages we should have skipped. Friends who were there for us in our darkest hours and those who weren’t. The doctor who took our case when we had no money or insurance. The one who botched the surgery and left us hanging out to die. It’s all there, imprinted in the way we see the world and react to it.
We are such untidy packages, made up of bits and pieces. Funny and sad, honest and untruthful. Self-pitying and brave. Lazy, yet determined. No one is of a single piece. No one is all good, all bad, all anything except all human.
Me? Today’s me is much changed from the young, idealist who planned to fix the world. Now I know I won’t fix it. I try to make a few little tweaks here and there, but the big bad world needs to look at younger souls to get the job done. Assuming the job can be done and assuming anyone has the power and will to give it a go.
I sound shockingly like my mother. My opinions, my way of expressing them. I thought she was so cynical, so lacking in faith. She made me crazy and I loved her anyway … and now, I am her.
The plain-spoken way she had of saying what she meant without bothering to pretty it up or disguise it with polite protestations. And the tenacity. Like a dog with a bone, she never let go and neither do I. Whatever it is, I worry it to death. It gets me into trouble. With everyone.
Yet I wouldn’t change it. It is my most useful and least pleasant character trait. It’s abrasive and annoying, but it’s the thing I appreciate most in me and which has best served me professionally (less so personally).
My fuse is too short (dad), but usually under control (mom), except when it isn’t (dad). My humor rarely fails me (mom) and being able to see the funny side of disaster is a saving grace in a life fraught with crises. Arthritis makes it hard for me to do much (I think I have an entire family tree to thank for that piece of DNA). The cancer is plain scary (mom, brother, grandma, grandpa) and the heart disease (dad, you just never stop giving do you?) is an unpleasant surprise. I didn’t get a really healthy package to work with. I can’t seem to fix things as fast as they break down.
Intellectual curiosity? Definitely mom. Passion for books? Mom again. Ability to tell a funny story? Okay dad, you get a point on that one. All those jokes you told over the years … gads, I’m still telling some of them. They were hoary 50 years ago, no less now. And dad, thanks for this great line. I still use it:
“It isn’t what you don’t know that’ll get you. It’s what you do know that’s wrong.” — Albert Friedman, terrible father, great salesman.