Do me a favor. Pause for a moment today and consider what a miracle you are.
That request springs from a 10-year-old article I stumbled across so interesting that I set it aside to write about sometime in the future.
I guess that time is now.
Ali Binazir, writing for the Huffington Post in 2011, said he was intrigued by the oft-cited statistic, which he had just heard in a TED talk, that the odds of a specific individual being born were about one in 400 trillion.
Even if you just accept that number, beating the odds against your birth would be worth celebrating as the longest of long shots. But Binazir did a little back-of-the-envelope math and came up with even more astonishing odds.
He began by calculating the probability that two specific people – your parents – out of the billions on Earth would meet and have a relationship lasting long enough to have children at around one in 40 million. And you are the result of one particular sperm, which your father would produce 12 trillion of during his reproductive lifetime, meeting one particular viable egg, of which your mother would have had about 100,000.
“So the probability of that one sperm with half your name on it hitting that one egg with the other half of your name on it is one in 400 quadrillion.”
But that’s just getting started. You have to do the same calculations for your parents’ four parents and get similar odds for those specific people being born, then your grandparents’ eight parents, and so on and so on back to the dawn of time.
What he ended up with was 400 quadrillion to the 150,000th power. That’s a 10 followed by 2,640,000 zeroes: “So what’s the probability of your being born? It’s the probability of 2.5 million people getting together … each to play a game of dice with trillion-sided dice. They each roll the dice — and they all come up the exact same number.”
The odds are so great as to be unimaginable, nearly incalculable. You should not even be here.
Yet, there you sit, reading this column, taking in the world around you through all your senses, thinking your unique thoughts.
My life has dimmed a bit today because it is missing a miracle.
I just learned that my Aunt Lou, having made it to her 90s, died in her sleep. She was the last of a generation in our family. Now, it’s just my brother and sister and me and all our cousins.
When my mother died, I experienced the same kind of grief I had when my father died years earlier, but something else, too: a sense of being adrift, cut off from my past and forced to carry the load alone that had been passed on generation to generation. With Aunt Lou’s passing, I feel that combination of awe and terror even more acutely.
As strongly as I feel that pang of isolation now, despite having achieved it so late in life, I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to be orphaned at a young age, always yearning for the connections that most of us take for granted. If each individual is a miracle, each family is wonderment of multiplied miracles. I don’t know which is worse, to never know the wonderment or to have it and not appreciate it.
I doubt if my aunt thought about the miracle of life. She was a hill woman from a generation that knew doing your chores was the only way to stay one step ahead of hardship. But she lived the miracle. I never heard her complain, and she raised a good family. She didn’t break faith with her ancestors, and she gave the next generation everything she had.
I think there is a lesson in there somewhere.
History isn’t just a passing of the torch or an accumulation of wisdom. It should be a celebration of miracles.
You can look at yourself as just one of the nearly 8 billion people now living and the 117 billion or so who have ever lived, here and gone in a flash, flesh crumbling into the dust of the ages, one more grain of sand on an infinite beach.
But you can also understand that among the vast sea of humanity, you are absolutely unique. There has never been another you, and there never will be.
You are a miracle. Don’t waste it.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].