Survival is imprinted on my DNA. It has written a story on your cells, too.
Our story goes back long before you or I could ever have been imagined.
Scientists tell us that Homo sapiens, that Latin name for “wise man,” because we think so very highly of ourselves, dates back as long as 315,000 years ago.
The bulk of my DNA — 95 percent, if you believe Ancestry.com — came to this continent on the bottom of slave ships. I got it from people in parts of Africa known today as Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, Senegal and Ghana.
In this land, my ancestors survived slavery and the injustices that come with it. This includes, as evidenced in my DNA, rapes by masters whose bloodlines came from what is now the United Kingdom and northwestern Europe.
The survivors in my bloodline and the DNA they carried for me survived the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Spanish flu, the Roaring ’20s, the Great Depression, two world wars,War ethe Jim Crow South, the Vietnam Era and so much more until I was born to a 21-year-old mother and a guitar-playing father in the ’70s.
There was some joy along the way, sure, but also plenty of pain. And we can’t ignore the pain. It is important to the story.
I survived when papa rolled away like the stone the Temptations famously sang about for the first time in 1972.
I survived cutting my first teeth, falling off a bicycle, being poor and black, being bullied throughout school and when a teen boy I didn’t know punched me in the face, knocked off my feet because I rejected his advances.
I survived leaving home and going off to college on my own, and driving along on the highway on my own.
I survived heartache and heartbreak.
I’ve survived getting jobs I think I wanted and not getting jobs I think I wanted.
I survived cat calls and being followed.
I survived being a woman and not being able to be a mother.
I have been unjustly criticized and subjected to undue scorn.
There have been times of worry, fear and self doubt.
There have been car accidents, surgeries, financial worries and deaths of people no amount of money can possibly replace.
I survived. I and the DNA that helps tell my story is still here.
These are scary times.
The coronavirus pandemic means death does indeed loom nearby in ways I never considered before, because we’ve never really had to think of it that way.
Our ancestors could likely imagine the fear we feel. Many of them survived something very similar.
Some of us won’t survive coronavirus — worldwide, nearly 200,000 of us have already died — but I know survival flows through our DNA.
We have it in us.
That brings me comfort.
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