Alike and Unique

Aunt Valeria

For as long as I can remember I’ve been told that I look just like my mother, my father, both of my grandmothers, my brothers, my aunts, my cousins, my daughters, my grandchildren. When people view me they see different things emphasizing certain traits in their minds. I’m certainly not a doppelgänger of anyone in my extended family, but the resemblances are there. I noticed that as I grow older I take on a kind of generic similarity to my relations even though I don’t appear to be a twin of any of them. It seems as though in the process of aging we take on characteristics similar to those of a baby without the external trappings of hair, makeup or clothing to distract from the essence of our appearance. We begin to look more and more alike.

I have a one hundred year old aunt from my mother’s side of the family. Invariably when I visit her at her nursing home someone will tell me that I am a carbon copy of her. My aunt doesn’t hear well these days so when I recently related such a comment to her in writing she commented with her trademark sense of humor, “Poor girl!” with a sly grin on her face.

The fact is that I have often thought that she and I resemble one another in a number of ways but most of them have more to do with the genetic makeup of our health issues rather than outward appearance. I somehow inherited the same propensity for osteoporosis and migraine headaches that have plagued her to the point of landing her in a wheelchair for many years whereas my own mother had none of those things.

I suppose that if a very observant artist or writer were to seriously analyze my facial features I would be found to more closely resemble my father and my youngest brother than anyone else in our big family. Such is also true of one of my grandsons and a nephew who bear a preponderance of features very similar to those of my dad. It’s funny how that works and often leads to one of those strange moments when finding an old photograph of an ancestor who appears to be a twin to one of the living relatives. It’s one thing to pick up the habits and nuances of people with whom we frequently interact to the point of seeming to be just like them, but it’s rather remarkable to discover an ancient still image that is eerily like a living descendent. Our DNA has a way of repeating patterns.

I now look at myself in the mirror and I see my face as a kind of microcosm of hundreds of years, perhaps thousands in a long line of people leading to me. Of course it never occurred to them to ponder so far into the future but I am intrigued by the thought of who they might have been and which of their traits I share. When I consider the miracle of those clumps of cells forming in a woman’s womb to make a new person with the evolved characteristics of people from the past I am in awe. It is breathtaking to consider the magnificence of the process of the creation of a human life and something not to be taken for granted.

Since joining Ancestry,com I have been able to put names, if not faces, to the people who came before me. I have put my spit in a test tube and sent it for DNA analysis. Through that process I have found distant cousins that I did not know existed. I have become a member of a Facebook group of people related to my paternal grandmother. I read their posts and their stories and realize that we share so many commonalities without ever having known each other before. Learning about them has made me feel an even stronger connection to humanity than ever before. It has made me realize that on the whole we share many more commonalities than differences even as we are separated by time and distance. I sometimes wonder if people would think we look or act alike if we had the opportunity to come somehow come together. Would the world instinctively know that we are related?

It’s difficult to imagine disrespect for human life whenever I think of how much I share with other people. There are basic traits that course through all of us. We laugh and cry and bleed and hurt in much the same ways. It seems contrary to common sense that we would ever think that one human is less worthy than another when we are so intertwined by our commonalities. The things that separate us are mostly cosmetic. If we were to be stripped down to the essence of who we are we might begin to look almost like reproductions of one another, just as babies and old people do.

At any given moment I do indeed look like my aunt or any of the people to whom I am related. I also resemble the more generic characteristics of being human just as we all do. It tells me to value myself and the people that I encounter. Each of us is both alike and unique. Perhaps there is nothing more important than treasuring every single life from the moment that we first begin to form to the instant when we take our last breaths. If we were to continually bear that in mind perhaps we might find ourselves in a more peaceful and just world. Languages and cultures may differ but the marrow in our bones and the blood in our veins tell us that we are the same.

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