March 19, 2007

To Live

I had a step-grandmother who was killed by a bus. She was apparently looking the wrong way, and it was all over instantly. I'd never met her, though I'd heard stories, so I was left to conjure up my own images of not just the woman, but also her demise. As she lived in England, I had to remember that for her to be looking the wrong way, was for her to be effectively looking the right way if she had lived over here.

I lost both of my natural grandmothers years before I was born. My dad lost his mother when he was 12; my mom's mother passed five years before I arrived. Whenever I am tracing family medical histories for a doctor, I always pause and try to consider what someone may have had, had they lived long enough to develop it. With a shrug, I continue on with the facts, and skip the fictions.

You've no doubt heard in recent years the advent of genetic testing for diseases passed on in families. As science develops the ability to solve more and more mysteries, it also stirs up the clouds of fear for many. In the NYT today, a young woman comes face to face with the crushing information that she will develop Huntington's Disease. It is an incurable brain disorder, and at 23, she'd already seen it ravage her grandfather for 30 years. She chose to find out.

Would you? My mother died of breast cancer. This is one of the diseases they've isolated along the string for being able to test for. It often runs in families, though the early passing of the above mentioned grandmothers has blanked out the information beyond my mother.

Just yesterday, Marc, 15 accused me of being a pessimist. He'd gotten a 91 in a subject; I jokingly asked him where the other 9% was. If he puts away all his laundry but one pair of socks, I point out the errant socks. He said the glass is always half empty with me. I told him not to knock the glass over.

As a rule, I do tend to want to control those things that I can. I always want the bad news first, and I also assume the worst. You'd think by now I'd realize it's futile, but I try anyway.

On the surface, I would appear to be the perfect candidate for genetic testing. Why, yes, lets remove all doubt! Test me for anything and everything, so I can imagine my dark, dark future and plan accordingly.

Only, no. I wouldn't. When you factor in only the negatives, you overlook the many unexpected positives that can come into your life. Loss can be a gift; empathy makes you a better person, and the only people who truly live their lives to the fullest are the ones who appreciate that it might not always be there. If a test tells you you're fine, you might waste precious moments assuming you have forever. If a test tells you you're not, you might waste precious moments assuming you have no time at all.

My life is not about how I'm going to die. It's about how I choose to live. And all the science in the world can't prevent me from looking the wrong way when the bus comes.


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