“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling,
but in rising every time we fall.”
~ Nelson Mandela.
I once made my mother curse. OK, by most standards, it was the mildest curse word you can imagine, but since ‘gosh’ or ‘golly’ were the strongest I had ever heard, I was shocked. I was 13, and like all teenagers, consumed by my own issues. I was struggling to knit a baby’s sweater, and the pattern was more complicated than I had done before. And somewhere I had messed up. As my mother tried to figure out how far back I had gone wrong, she uttered the word. What I had overlooked was that she was struggling with her own challenges.
It was only recently that I understood how big that challenge was. She was back in school for the first time in about 25 years, taking her teacher’s certification course. Those of us who have gone back to school in our middle age know how that feels. But that wasn’t the biggest part of the challenge. Unfortunately her timing was wrong, and she had to take the second part of the course before the first. I can only imagine how confusing that must have been.
But I come from a long line of strong women. Women who have faced adversity and come out on top. Women who have had to create order out of disruption. My father’s mother was born in Patagonia, Argentina. Her parents were among a group of Welsh immigrants who left the harsh conditions of their homeland at the end of the 19th century to what they believed was the promised land. Unfortunately things were even worse in Patagonia, and life was hard. When they eventually gave up and set sail back to England, they left behind the graves of several siblings. At 13, my grandmother had to sit in class with ‘the babies’. She spoke two languages, and English was not one of them! And yet she grew up to raise three boys who all went to university.
The other day I read about epigenetics. This is relatively new to genetic science, the concept that there are proteins above our genes that can change the way those genes are expressed. And these arise as a result of life experiences, both our own, and our parents and grandparents. So this is a new step in the debate about nature versus nurture. Does our genetic code determine who we are and how we face life, or are we a product of our environment? This new science suggests that we may also be a result of the environment that affected those who went before us. So I may have inherited the resilience that my grandmother developed in response to her life challenges. Just as my mother may have inherited the strength and persistence of her own mother.
This I found fascinating. But the article went on to say that just as those proteins which alter the gene’s expression are laid down, they can also be removed. And this is where the magic lies. For some of those extra twists may not be helpful, for if my grandmothers had decided to cope with their trials by hitting the bottle, I may have inherited that pattern as well! So the hunt must be to find the way to reinforce those good adaptations while unraveling those that do harm.
I remember the difficult time my mother had in tracking down the stitch I had dropped in my knitting project. It required patience and perseverance. She had to use a crochet hook to repair the damage and get me back on track. And in the end there was no sign of the lost stitch. Repairing the damage done in our own lives or in the lives of our parents and grandparents may take even more patience and perseverance.
When I heard about epigenetics my first thought was, great, now we can blame our parents for even more stuff! Even worse, what will my kids blame me for! But the hope lies in the fact that we can undo the harm, we can change the pattern, and create new designs of optimism, patience and compassion.
Sometimes we get stuck in our own ‘pity party’, looking at the hand life has dealt us and feeling as if there is no way out of a rut we find ourselves in. We have choices. We can either console ourselves that we have no way out, that this is our lot in life, or we can choose to find a way to rise above it. What excuses may you be hiding behind? What may be holding you back? Get to work, change those habits that are not helpful, and undo the damage. We can change our destiny, we can grow a whole new future, we can reinvent ourselves, one stitch at a time.
This weekend spend some time to reflect on those who came before, who made you strong, resilient and capable. Understand the struggles that they may have gone through that produced in you some fear, some lack of confidence, and commit to changing the design. Do it for yourself, and do it for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will need all of the talents and examples they can get to handle this difficult world.
Have a great Friday Family!