Steve made out, through a light powdering of snow, the inscription: Louisa Gibbs Smith, March 24, 1946—April 13, 1998. The last of her seven children, he hadn’t visited his mother’s grave since he was twelve, but now he had come for an accounting.
The cold air made his cough worse. Nothing yet known to science seemed to be able to stop the eruption of a cancer three of his mother’s children had contracted nor to predict whether the others who didn’t have it had passed on the tendency to their offspring. Bill his eldest brother was at this moment coughing to death in a hospital, so Steve couldn’t ask Bill what he thought of the bane he had inherited. Bill had five children. Two of their sisters with the disease had six and four children. Of these, up to half could die early of cancer unless a modern genetic discovery intervened.
Was it worth it? The question had more meaning than ever before as he planned to marry a valiant woman who vowed to accept with joy the time they could get and trust the future to God. But children! The foundation studying the family heredity predicted that perhaps 40 percent of his offspring would die in their later forties or fifties, having been around long enough to have implanted the tendency in their children. They would probably also have passed on genes for musical and mathematical abilities far above the average. He asked himself if he had the right to plant seeds whose potential for good was so blatantly marred.
If he died in, say, ten or fifteen years, leaving children to grow up without him, would that be a gift or a curse? He thought, “What if my own mother and father had known what they were passing on and refused to have me? What if I had never been born?” His answer had to be in his contributions and in his sense of life’s abundance. When it came down to it, the question he was asking was, “Am I worth it?”