Scientists tell us that Homo sapiens, that Latin name for “wise man,” because we think so very highly of ourselves, dates back as long as 315,000 years ago.
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The bulk of my DNA — 95 percent, if you believe Ancestry.com — came to this continent on the bottom of slave ships. I got it from people in parts of Africa known today as Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, Senegal and Ghana.
In this land, my ancestors survived slavery and the injustices that come with it. This includes, as evidenced in my DNA, rapes by masters whose bloodlines came from what is now the United Kingdom and northwestern Europe.
The survivors in my bloodline and the DNA they carried for me survived the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Spanish flu, the Roaring ’20s, the Great Depression, two world wars,War ethe Jim Crow South, the Vietnam Era and so much more until I was born to a 21-year-old mother and a guitar-playing father in the ’70s.
There was some joy along the way, sure, but also plenty of pain. And we can’t ignore the pain. It is important to the story.
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I survived when papa rolled away like the stone the Temptations famously sang about for the first time in 1972.
I survived cutting my first teeth, falling off a bicycle, being poor and black, being bullied throughout school and when a teen boy I didn’t know punched me in the face, knocked off my feet because I rejected his advances.
I survived leaving home and going off to college on my own, and driving along on the highway on my own.
I survived heartache and heartbreak.
I’ve survived getting jobs I think I wanted and not getting jobs I think I wanted.
I survived cat calls and being followed.
I survived being a woman and not being able to be a mother.
I have been unjustly criticized and subjected to undue scorn.
There have been times of worry, fear and self doubt.
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There have been car accidents, surgeries, financial worries and deaths of people no amount of money can possibly replace.
I survived. I and the DNA that helps tell my story is still here.
These are scary times.
The coronavirus pandemic means death does indeed loom nearby in ways I never considered before, because we’ve never really had to think of it that way.
Our ancestors could likely imagine the fear we feel. Many of them survived something very similar.
Some of us won’t survive coronavirus — worldwide, nearly 200,000 of us have already died — but I know survival flows through our DNA.
We have it in us.
That brings me comfort.
When we asked on social media, current and former Dayton-area residents shared things they have survived as a way of helping others who maybe struggling.
Pene Johnson Miller — "Losing my husband, my 'plan' and most of my direction. I felt so adrift. It's been nearly 10 years, and I find I'm finally feeling grounded again. I've grown some new roots, stronger ones, and know I can weather most anything now."
Jennifer Hunter — "Family hatred. I am 50. I was born to a Caucasian single mom and a black father. I was kept away from the black side and was largely hidden from outsiders on the white side. When my grandma died, the priest turned around and stopped the service because he thought he was in the wrong place. I was not given one memento from her and have been asking for the last 13 years for the picture from her service when she was about 20. My mom, at the end of her life, told me I was a spite baby that she had to (tick) her raging, racist drunk father off and then he died the same year. I didn't know it then but the family blamed me."
Jes McMillan — "The overdose and death of my only parent (mother) as a teenager."
Jeremy Roadruck —"Birth (mom had 8 miscarriages. I'm baby #7 of 10). Childhood sexual trauma on two continents. U.S. Army boot camp and AIT. Two collapsed lungs (same one twice, 14 months apart … not two at once! That woulda been EPIC!). Bankruptcy. Being homeless for two months. Living in a tent in the woods while a tornado was about 50 yards away. Being terminated from a corporate job, then living 11 months on a 2-month salary."
Erica Knapp Hubler — “Teenage motherhood, teenage marriage, a child with special needs, more surgeries than I care to count, real estate market of 2008, the mother of a police officer, mother of an EMT, Army Mom (harder than I would’ve ever expected) … this too shall pass.”
Libby Ballengee — “Deaths of both parents, my older brother and best friend. And endometriosis, which was no picnic.”
John Tobbs — "I was born with a tumor the size of a grapefruit attached to my spine and ribcage. It was surgically removed at 2.5 months old, had chemo and radiation."
Heather Roberts — “Survived an abusive relationship, divorce, depression, cervical cancer, multiple surgeries. … And shellfish. Those critters really don’t want me to put them in my mouth.”
Meggan J. Lanahan — “Almost drowning in a pool because my legs were trapped in an inner tube and I was upside down; major spinal surgery; losing my dad at almost 4 years old; being t-boned in an intersection by someone texting and speeding at me; and most impressively … high school.”
Melissa Mills-Constantine — “Crohn’s Disease since ‘79, same employment for 30-plus years, miscarriage, and now survivor of being at home for a month with a hub and three fur dogs.”