…things you’ve inherited

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— Acceptance of people as they are. Your mother lives her life this way, her face young with the kindness she shows others. She runs a social club for the elderly, organising quizzes and lunches, speakers and performers. She is in her seventies herself, and can also be feisty. This is another trait you’ve inherited.

— A book of diagrammatical drawings titled Italian Architecture, published in 1882, which is so hefty you have to brace yourself when lifting it. The spine is broken and torn to expose corrugated stitching, and the dark brown covers are ragged with age. This book was given to your grandfather by the man who trained him to be a stonemason, whose name was Mr Earp. Family legend goes that he was the cousin of the infamous deputy marshall, Wyatt Earp, who killed three outlaws at the OK Corral. Your grandfather passed this book onto your father, who also became a stonemason, and it is filled with the penciled tracings of archways and pinnacles done by your father or grandfather, possibly both. You rarely look at this book, but when you do it is these drawings you gaze at, feeling the presence of both men and wondering if the meticulous shapes were ever carved.

—Migraines. This you inherited from your grandmother, whose triggers were chocolate and cheese. Your own are wine and fatigue. As a child there was no medication that worked to stem the haemorrhage-like headache, and you grew up believing painkillers didn’t work. Now you know better.

—A birdwatcher’s spirit. Many of your childhood memories involve birds; peering through binoculars to see a crossbill perched on the branch of a pine tree in Scotland, the agony of rising at 5am suddenly falling away; hunched in a hide beside Chew Valley Lake watching the great crested grebes, your favourites, their distinctive heads bobbing with the gentle ripples; the jackdaw abandoned by its mother that your father bought home in a box. You kept him in the garage, shaking a tin of seed every time you fed him so when he was old enough to be released he would return home when he heard the noise. He did for a time, until he found a new flock.

—Polygenic Hypercholesterolaemia. Even though you are slim and eat a healthy Mediterranean diet, you’ve had high cholesterol since birth. You only discover this later in life, and when the doctor tells you what this means the only words you hear are multiple gene mutations. He asks if you smoke, and you confess to one or two a week. Stop, he says firmly. This is what you find most shocking, that so little smoke in your lungs can cause so much damage.

—Double-jointed thumbs, also from your grandmother. Making them dance is your one and only party trick.

—The ability to let your children be. Your parents only ever wanted you to be happy, and you raised your children the same way. They now have their own understanding about inheritance; the illnesses and defections, the personality traits and belief systems. These children, now adults, are a conglomeration of DNA and lived experience, but they also have a luminous streak of spirit that is entirely their own. You think you have raised them to cultivate this streak as they both live unconventional lives, keeping true to their own nature.

You cannot change your DNA inheritance, so you follow medical advice and pass this on to your own children.

You can change your belief inheritance, but it takes many years for you to realise this. Finally, you stand back from the beliefs that have hampered you, and you see them clearly as excuses, the stance of a victim. Then you spend time cutting these ties to the past, to the tainted stories you’ve repeated many times throughout your life.

And you find, miraculously, that you are free.

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