Locating Long-Ago-And-Faraway On your GPS

Today’s GPS systems are one more modern marvel. They seem capable of locating virtually anything anywhere anytime. Or can they…?

I tried a simple experiment knowing it would fail — locating that special long-ago-and-faraway in my life. To be sure, neither computers nor satellites promise to do what memory alone can. Which means these marvels cannot conjure up on their screens those special where-and-when’s in our lives. The June graduation night embracing dear friends we promised never to leave…the shoreline where first we met….the celebration where all that was you sang and drank with all that had made them so important for so long….the altar where you locked hands, hearts and vows before death did you part.

So it is agreed then! Machines, marvels that they are, have their limits. A formidable thought which came back to mind during a night-long conversation with a geneticist friend. Over Milanese pasta and Tuscany wines, my gifted friend hoped his career would someday prove part of a genetic revolution.

“Our genes are the code to our future,” he asserted. “They come down to us from our past intact, but someday we will be able to alter them for our future. A future maybe without the predestination of cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.” He spoke with enthusiasm of steroids, growth hormones, genetic engineering, and other enhancements current research is beginning to grasp.

It was more than the wine that heated our usual dinner exchange. I asked: Isn’t tinkering with humans tricky? He smiled: Skeptics have grumbled that ever since the ancient Greeks. I insisted: I always sound out-of-step with the times, but who’s to say our steps are heading in the right direction? He shook his head the way he usually does when he thinks me hopelessly unaware: If humanity refused to probe the unknown, you and I would still be talking 15th C Spanish about our a flat earth!

Which was of course the classic blade to the heart with which modernists slay medievalists.

Bleeding a bit as I usually am after these long lovely dinners playing rival gods, I couldn’t resist my own blade. “I grant your mother and father might theoretically have been genetically enhanced as better workers, bakers, PTA members, and voters. But tell me how this would have made them better parents? Grant me this much. Tinkering with the parts — like genes and hormones — can have terribly unintended consequences with the whole. The whole which over these last 84 years has brought who-you-are to this dinner tonight.”

He closed his eyes with his you-don’t-get-it silence. I closed mine hoping when they re-opened, he would still be the same genetically-imperfect friend he has always been.

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