I wonder, sometimes, about my forebears. We used to talk about what ‘blood’ ran through our veins. It was a great way to think of it for a while. As a child I loved to think of ‘the blood of my ancestors.’ Now that I am a man, and understand things a little better (though still ‘through a glass darkly’) I know that their DNA is in my cells.
This is breathtaking stuff. It isn’t as if some dusty old bins of chemicals were passed along. I have, within me, the accumulated information of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of years of humanity and human ancestry. What’s more, I have the things that worked.
Do you get that? The traits that worked; or perhaps, the traits of those who survived. Either way, who they were, at least bits of that, lives in every living cell of my body. And my wife and I, conduits of time, have passed those wondes of information on into the cells of our children.
We do not understand consciousness, and we don’t really understand memory all that well. Maybe some of their memories remain in me? Or maybe, more likely, the effects of the trials of their lives reshaped their genes to pass on to me. Thus, I have the collected gifts of their trials and survivals.
Do you ever pause to think that you are part of an unbroken line back to the dawn of human life? And beyond? That’s remarkable.
But sometimes, that’s cold and detached; clinical even. Until I think of Grandpa Caveman.
I don’t know when he lived. Ten thousand years ago? 100,o00? More? But in my mind he is sitting outside his shelter, by a fire. The air is chill. It is night. Under furs nearby are his wife and his young. He looks at them with love. He pulls the furs up over their shoulders as he watches in the night. His spear is nearby; he knows that night is not safe.
But he is content. And somehow, in a moment of reverie, he looks forward as I look back. He understands children. He has lost several. He knows that his line, his blood even, goes through them.
And sitting down, his hand on a rock, his eyes alternating between stars, and fire, family and the dim night horizon where danger may lurk, he sometimes stares forward into the mists of his mind.
He hopes for a time with no danger. He hopes for children that all live to adulthood. He hopes for a time when bearing a son or daughter does not risk the life of his wife, his mate, his partner, his friend.
He wishes fires were easier to start and hopes his descendents can do it. He dreams of a day when a stranger will not be an automatic source of anxiety. And when a sound in the night is outside a solid wall. He wishes for plenty of food and clean water. And in whatever way he prays, he wishes all that for, well, me.
Maybe, in the same way I hope I can live to take long walks with my grandchildren, he wishes I could come back and hunt with him. That we could walk the trails and woods together, where he would show me things I can’t imagine. He would teach me skills and laugh at my clumsy, soft modern hands. But he would see in my eyes that fire of life. I think he would like to embrace me, and my wife and children.
I am a Christian, who also believes in science as a tool (not as an object of veneration). And in my theology, Christ lands in the center of all things, to bring all things to him. Even those who did not know his name, who came long before his incarnation on the earth, will have access to him. At the resurrection I believe I will see ancestors I knew. And untold numbers more I never knew, or imagined.
And I like to think, as I love to look back and forth down time, that Grandpa Caveman will come to me on that great day and lift me up with a great hug. And say with clear eyes and clear voice, ‘ah yes, you’re one of mine. This is what I always hoped for. Now let’s find a place to hunt. Where is your spear?’
You know what? The hunting will be good.
Even better will be the connections broken by time and restored by eternity.