I get told a lot about my determination as if I have exclusivity in our family to that factor that drives my soul.
While I do have ambition and feel a need to live every day to the fullest, I can’t claim that I developed or nurtured these traits on my own. I think somehow they are inborn, bestowed from generations that came before us.
I have recently made contact with a cousin separated from our family at birth. We speak on the phone frequently, and I marvel at how much she sounds like my aunt, the mother she never met. Oddly enough, not only is her voice similar to my aunt, her expressions are echoes of her mother’s, and I have heard from my cousins that their new sister is so much like her, she could be a clone.
For me, I see my late cousin’s smile in the way she lights up in pictures, the way she tilts her head brings back my grandmother and our cheekbones were carved by the same sculptor.
Still, there are the things we don’t see, ambition, drive, determination, and perhaps things we are not happy about ourselves, laziness, procrastination, stubbornness, or even a bad temper. Can cheapness be inherited? Is courage embedded in our genes?
Where did they all come from? Are we the way we are by design or habit? Are the tics and tells that define us in the DNA handed down from our ancestors? When someone says you act just like your mother, is it from born from being in each other’s company or is it imprinted on our personalities?
I like to think I inherited the best from each of my parents. When I am told about my drive and determination, I look back to my father’s survival in the concentration camps. His life depended on his skill at adapting to unbelievably harsh circumstances. He was sheltered and protected as a child by his parents, yet from his entire family, he managed to find ways to live through the daily horrific events that became his life. It made me think of his familial history and the other historical events like the Inquisition or Pogroms, where his ancestors must have used their wits to triumph adversity.
My mother’s goodness, her patience, and her total devotion to family were part of what I loved best about her. Did that come from her mother, or grandmothers, and finally the great-grandmother I’ve heard in tales from the past?
My great-great grandmother was a woman who blended into the background, yet founded a business when females were not allowed or encouraged to thrive. She forged paths for her daughters encouraging them into business and professions that ensured survival as husbands died leaving them alone to raise children and provide incomes for the next generation. Did she pass down a resilience gene to my mom who was a person steeped in depression, yet always managed to make her children feel loved, cherished, and accomplished rather than the bite of her illness? Her unconditional love created a strong support to make us feel secure enough to try new things without fear.
I identify and define my two grandmothers with courage, one who survived the Holocaust and one who did not. My mother’s mother was rooted in pragmatism and practicality, and then there was my father’s mother, the one I never met who was fey and romantic and lost herself in books. She looked my father in the eye the last day of her life and told him what she saw, that he would be the sole survivor. They say she had the sight. Can her ability to divine the future be a trait that was handed down through the ages? Do I detect that gift in my grandchildren’s eyes?
My father would watch me read, curled up on the couch and with a wistful smile, tell me about his mother, who loved her books, and I brought her back to him.
Did my love of reading come from her? Is that also a gene that is imprinted on our DNA to be passed down?
On the flip side, how did I dodge the bullets of depression or procrastination that runs deep on one side of the family? I rejected them- can you refuse a trait? Is it possible to choose?
Just like my green eyes and the hair color I have hidden under layers of blonde highlights, I wonder where all my parts came from. Who honed them enough to survive and pass them down to me? Who ensured that I could dance through the raindrops and come back with each punch of adversity? Other than the rather large tire around my middle, I’d like to thank them.