“Most epigenetic modification, by whatever mechanism, is believed to be erased with each new generation, during gameto-genesis and after fertilization. However, one of the more startling reports published in 2005 challenges this belief and suggests that epigenetic changes may endure in at least four subsequent generations of organisms.” [emphasis my own]
I see anecdotal evidence of generational trauma and its health effects in my own family. My mother is the family genealogist. Recently, she was talking about how historically my grandfather’s people lived very long lives. To pass in one’s late 70s/80s or later was the norm, long before it has started to become the norm for most. We are talking nearly as far back as one can go. One thing they say is that, in that family, they had never been slaves. The history is such that the land they owned, about 200 acres, was a land grant from Washington to one of his former soldiers who had been a scout, if I remember correctly in the French and Indian War. Someone was married to a Black woman and when Virginia was about to implement a law that made an Black person, even if free, subject to becoming a slave by stripping away rights, the entire family moved to Pennsylvania.
On my grandmother’s side, the family story is different. She is a descendent of those who were enslaved and were forced to give of body and the labor of the body on a large plantation. For generations, the family has been plagued by early deaths from cancer and other maladies, often dying in their 50s or earlier, as far back as one can go in our family history.
Still, I once said, if we can be the holders of generational trauma, we must also be holders of generational joy, and I would add resilience and dreaming and more.
After reading Spill and M Archive, I am now thinking of #freedomdreaming and how we choose one another, the inheritances received and bequeathed, embodied and walking and breathing, how our genes and bodies are not just responsive to the external impacts or our internal responses to those environmental, social, physical, etc triggers.
We need to talk about recognizing the complexities of our histories and also the wondrous possibilities of what else is embodied. What is it to look back into the past with absolute appreciation for one’s ancestors and to think of one’s ancestors as living within the present and also living within the unfolding marvelousness of the child they are holding? To make it more specific, how do I look in the mirror metaphorically and see my grandmother’s steely strength and courage – she moved from what was familiar in Columbia, South Carolina to rural Pennsylvania with my grandfather and mother -within me and within my son? All women carry all ova that they will ever carry at birth, so I like to think that within my grandmother there was already the possibility of forming of my mother and by extension and by extension my son, nested within one body, a line has, in a way reached its end if I have no daughters.
Would I choose my grandmother and her mother and her mother before? Yes, though, of course, the conditionality of that word, “would” is fruitless; they were already chosen before my choosing biologically. I do actively choose them in spirit; I choose to remember their names. Would I be chosen from the place of dreaming? I remember the warmth of my grandmother’s hand, though I was around 4 when she died. I know she would choose me, and I choose to marvel at my son each day as I think about the past, the present, the future, the defiance of time within the body and the weight of its pull on demolishing the body and the resiliency and mercurial transformation of the spirit across time and space and the bounty of the body.
I am growing into the mother I never imagined I would want to be, how I chose it and was chosen. I am writing this daily astonishment into the threading of my son. May his days be long and awe-inducing in the miniscule and the magnificent.