For a long time, I thought I’d invented something I called genetic memory, but then I found out it’s a thing, this memory we are born with. Scientists call it epigenetics, and they get all caught up in trying to describe and explain it in scientific terms, but here’s what I know that it is –
The other day, I was with two of my sisters when one said she wanted to stop by the leather shop to pick up a suitcase that had been repaired. As we pulled into a parking space, she started to ask if we wanted to wait in the car, but my other sister and I were already opening the door to the shop. Miss out on a chance to breathe in the smell of all that leather? No way would we wait in the car.
I have leather workers on either side of my family tree, a grandfather and a two times great uncle. They worked with leather every day, repairing harness, cutting out and sewing together shoes and boots. There’s no way I can explain how I feel when I feel and smell good leather. I love leather chairs, leather computer bags and backpacks, leather seats in my car and when I’m not wearing sneakers, I’m wearing leather shoes.
I think my love of leather is a genetic memory.
I’ve heard people tell about an unexplained feeling of “being home” when they visit an area they know they have never before visited, others who can’t tell you why but are terrified of black dogs or being on open water in a boat or walking across a bridge. It seems like our fears, our life’s desires, our prejudices might be…must be embedded in our being. How do we know things we never learned?
There’s a theory that child prodigies are channeling genetic memories. How else would a 10-year-old Ruth Lawrence have the knowledge to rank first of 530 candidates sitting the exam for entrance into Oxford and go on to graduate at the age of 13? …or Karl Benz, the founder of Mercedes-Benz pass the entrance exam for mechanical engineering at the University of Karlsruhe (in Germany) at the age of 15? …or Shirley Temple a professional actor and dancer win an Academy Award by the age of seven?
My own genetic memory is more mundane…that love of the smell and feel of leather, the feeling of both peace and anxiety that flows over me when standing by the Ohio River, the love of place that I have always felt in the Lexington/Bardstown area of Northern/Eastern Kentucky.
I believe all of those can be explained by genetic memory. My ancestors traveled down the Ohio with all their belongings on a flat-bottomed boat sometime in the mid 1700’s and settled in that same area of Kentucky that I have always loved. In the early 1800’s they moved on into the area of southern Indiana that I now call home. I never knew the facts of these events until I began studying my family history, but I have known the facts of these feelings all my life.
If there is a lesson to be learned here…well, there might be many lessons. Maybe more important than learning to listen to our “gut” feelings about things we don’t know how we know, maybe we should be aware of what genetic memories we want to pass on to our future generations. Maybe we should be a little bolder in the face of our fears; work a little harder on being a kinder, gentler person; try to develop new skills and gain new knowledge; seek new frontiers.
Maybe it isn’t just our children who are our responsibility, but the entire line of those who come after. Maybe the future of not only our ancestors, but of the world to come, really does rest on our shoulders and depend on what we learn and do every day.