THE FRUIT FLY
Once a fruit fly developed a short-lived interest in genealogy. This interest began more or less by chance when the fruit fly received, sandwiched within the daily stack of junk mail, an envelope addressed to “Resident” and marked “Urgent! Our Computers May Already Have Located Your Long-Lost Ancestors!” Opening the envelope, the fruit fly discovered several Xeroxed pages showing flies it didn’t recognize posing on old-fashioned furniture and historic landmarks. At the bottom of each page, large red lettering proclaimed “There Could Be A Prince Or Princess In Your Background! You Might Even Be Related To Famous Figures Like Cleopatra’s Maid!! Cleopatra Herself Maybe!! You’ll Never Know Who You Really Are If You Don’t Answer This Special Offer To Search For Your Origins Right Now!!!” The fruit fly nearly discarded the letter on the spot. It took all of its powers of concentration, as it was, just to keep the events of today straight and to avoid becoming lost amid the whirl of other fruit flies round about. Who had the time, in so short a life, when getting the most out of each moment was itself such a challenge, to concentrate on the distant past as well? And yet, the fruit fly thought while looking through the photographs again, perhaps it should concern itself more with the question of its roots. Was there proof, as the letter claimed, that it wasn’t just another fly in the crowd but somehow unique in some undiscovered way? Was there really an illustrious progenitor somewhere in the long line of chromosomal changes leading from Stone Age fruit flies to its own birth? How had they lived and how had they died, those ancient forebears? Not in the general sense of fruit flies as a species. The pattern there was more than clear: hatched in their trillions, a brief buzz in the sun, and then a passing away into oblivion. No, the real question was what they thought they were up to those many generations ago and through every generation since. Did they have any greater certainty about who they were and who had come before them and who would follow them than the fruit fly had of its own place in the unfolding of their shared DNA at this very moment? And the highs and lows of its life, the experiences or emotions that allowed it at times to think of itself as more than simply a string of gene couplings, were these known to its ancestors in like measure? Had they gazed into the midnight sky and wondered about the origins of all they beheld and where they fit into the larger scheme of things? Where fruit flies had come from and where they were going? Were there dreamers among them as well as cautious, pragmatic souls? Creatures of passionate elation and quaking despair and everything between? The fruit fly looked again at the letter, with its pictures and promises, and then laid it aside, thus ending its brief interest in genealogy. Not because of the outlandish claims in the letter but rather the presumption its writers made that knowing the truth about your ancestors was better than imagining the unknown about them. Could it ever be?
Copyright © 2003-2004, revised 2008, by Geoffrey Grosshans