Epigenetics is what scientists call the discovery that events in our environments can change the outer skin of our genes, change the way in which they express themselves, turning them off and on depending on how our bodies read the conditions of life, and that those changes get passed on to our descendents. Dutch women who survived the famine of 1944 gave birth to low weight babies, as expected, but when their children grew up, they also had low weight babies. The story of hunger clung to their DNA and passed on the traits appropriate to a permanent famine. Combat veterans pass on the changes in their own bodies that come with the constant threat of sudden and violent death, and the DNA of their children born after the trauma wears a coat of camouflage, expressed in the symptoms of PTSD.
But if hunger and terror tattoo the skins of our genes with outdated survival manuals and a continuous stream of SOS signals, if the conscious acts of human beings to deprive each other of food and safety and life itself, mark us in inheritable ways, surely we can decide to mark ourselves, through an entirely different set of human acts, with messages of solace and solidarity, with a codex of healing.