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As our bodies formed in the womb, our design—our physical, material identity—was mapped out in each new cell that emerged as part of our tiny bodies. It has only been in the last 100 years that we have understood what it is that holds the blueprints to our material essence—DNA. Curled up in the nucleus of each of our cells, is a double-helix strand made of three billion base pairs that form 23 pairs of chromosomes. That strand holds within it all the details that make each of us look like ourselves. Passed on through our genome are whispers of those who came before us—the forbears whose stories set the stage for our own entrance at a particular time and place into this world. And newly generated in that genome are features that are distinct and unique to each person now living her or his own stories.

It is the stories that emerge from us that make this physical singularity so significant. The specificity of DNA is reflected in our incorporeal identity, which is also completely unique in every person. Each of us has a history that informed the process of our becoming from the first moment we drew breath. And now, as we make choices from day to day, reacting to the things we cannot change, and determining whether to change those we can, we write the stories of our lives. We are the only ones who can author those stories; that inherent role is imbued with responsibility. What legendary modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham once told the illustrious Agnes de Mille is true of all of us:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.

Whether we will live a story that puts our name on the lips of greater humanity, or whether it is lived quietly in our families and communities, inside each of us is a unique power and potential to do good in this world.

I remember rolling over in bed one morning and glancing at my phone with bleary eyes. Instead of noting the time, what caught my attention was a headline: a mass shooting in Las Vegas. I felt a despairing spiral. It seemed like too much. Too much hatred. Too much violence. Too much fear. Too much to overcome. It made me want to isolate myself—run from humanity into the sanctuary of nature. But that reaction was met by a distinct and powerful thought: I cannot possibly combat all the evils in the world, but I can do a little good. I can serve my family, my neighbors, and my community. I am not powerless.  

There is something inside of me—and something inside of you—that no one else who has ever lived can offer. It is a power and a potential to transform this world in a way that no one else can. Most of us may live quiet lives; nevertheless, we will each leave an impression in the bark of the great world tree that is essential and cannot be left by any other living being. As we open ourselves to possibility, it will unfold into reality to the improvement and relief of those whose unique stories intersect with our own.

Written by Elisabeth S. Weagel