I got THE COOLEST present for my 40th birthday: a DNA kit!
According to the instructions, I just have to refrain from eating or drinking for 10 minutes (the hardest part of the test), spit into a tube (very elegant), and send it off in the mail. Then, in six to eight weeks, the company will analyze my DNA and send me an email telling me all about my ancestry!
Now, of course I know who I am according to family lore: Scots-Irish on my mother’s side, Polish-Hungarian on my dad’s. But, as they say, you never know. Family history has a way of being, shall we say, elastic. What I mean is, sometimes Daddy may actually be the milkman, if you catch my drift.
What am I hoping for?
Confirmation about my ancestry? A little monkey wrench? I’m honestly not sure.
It reminds me of a joke I’ve heard every now and then that almost all white people like to claim Native American blood. How many of you have claimed to be 1/64 Cherokee?
My grandfather on my mother’s side was a notorious racist, always full of hate. Mom says it would be very poetic to find out I have some African blood on that side. I don’t know what I want to find out. I just want to know.
I think the appeal of DNA testing is that it gives us a concrete identity. Whether you believe we are descended from apes or showed up onthe sixth day, or something in between, we all wonder, here and there, Who Am I?
When you’re young, you look for that answer in the mirror (today’s generation looks for it in a backwards-facing phone camera). You make concrete declarations: I am a dancer. I am a jock. I am a girl who wears dresses. I’m a tomboy.
Later, you pivot toward your career and parental status. I am a writer. I am a mother. A wife. I am a lawyer. A doctor. I am an artist.
You tie it in to your philosophical preferences. I am a Christian. I am a gay woman. I am a vegan. I am a Crossfitter. A runner. A yogi. A LeBron fan.
It’s in your choice of vehicle. I am a soccer mom. I drive a pickup truck. I prefer a Subaru. I wish I had that Corvette in the Greenbrier Chevrolet showroom.
I sometimes wonder if, here in America, a nation of immigrants, we feel so far removed from our ancestral homes that we aren’t all out there in the wilderness, turning over stones, seeking our identity. Our nation is one that honors rugged individualism, the idea of “Go West, Young Man.” We also, on a good day, call ourselves a melting pot, a mixture of countries and ideologies.
That combination of individualism and cultural diversity can be confusing. Are we a melting pot, or more of a gumbo? What gets lost here in the New World?
For instance, I have little to no idea what is happening in Poland right now. Who is the president? Beats me. What’s happening in Hungary? Scotland? Ireland? Those places are, well, foreign to me. I can tell you what’s happening in Lewisburg, in Friars Hill, in Charleston. I can tell you what’s going on in Washington, D.C. and New York. Those other places are oceans away!
Listen, I, like a lot of you, watch “Game of Thrones.” So much of that show, when you look beyond the violence and nudity, is about tribalism, ancestral homes. I cheered when (spoiler alert) Jon and Sansa took back Winterfell last weekend.
“This is our home,” they declared, as they fought through the bloody bodies, slashing and beating back the Bolton army (with the help of some surprise allies). Sometimes I get annoyed at those characters, with their house sigils on their banners, and their dedication to their tribes.
It all seems so foreign to our American life, where we all just kind of bump about, willy-nilly, moving far away from our parents, marrying and having babies with people who look nothing like us.
Whether the DNA kit will bring some resolution to these questions, I have no idea, but — I can’t wait to see what it reveals.