Lottery Winners: All of Us

In vitro fertilization was a topic in a science magazine I was reading a few years ago, and the complexity of producing “test tube babies” was only part of the fascinating concepts the article examined. More striking were the facts about normal human reproduction and the sheer numbers involved in the process that has populated the world since homo sapiens emerged.

The article explained these numbers: A woman in her reproductive life produces about 450 viable eggs; a man during a single sex act ejaculates between 40 million and 1.2 billion sperm cells. Averaging the numbers out, there are about 800 million sperm swimming paths toward one egg, possibly resulting in fertilization. To make the scenario more down-to-earth and personal, that’s how you and I began our journeys through life (along with all of humanity before us).

While trying to conceive (bad pun there) of the numbers and what they mean, the realization of the odds of my existing at all, along with everyone I know, are infinitesimal. Put another way, if any one of 800 million sperm cells had been different than the one that produced me, I would not be here today, and a different person would be. Obviously, the same situation exists with everyone. If this whole scenario were a lottery, think of the odds against YOUR existence: an average of 800 million to one.

Although one can be impressed with the enormity of the numbers from the scientific perspective, I believe there is a more expansive way to consider the wonders of human life: Each of us is here against almost impossible odds; we are all “chosen” from a spermatic lottery. The bigger issue is what we do with the gift of life that we were given.

About the time I was absorbing the facts in the article, I was also a guest speaker at our local juvenile justice center, overseen by Judge Karen Lawson, in Lake County, Ohio. She had introduced an impressive number of programs based not on punishing juvenile offenders but instead on empowering them to lead successful, enriched lives. One of the programs was “New Voices,” directed by Lori DiNallo; girls who had been through the justice system met in informal groups as a prelude to their dismissal.

I decided to introduce the ideas I’d absorbed from the genetics article and then went on to explain the impact it has had on my thinking. I phrased it something like “Each of you has heard of the state and national lotteries. Please think of yourself as having won the biggest lottery of all in that you ARE ALIVE; had one sperm from your father been a faster swimmer, a different baby other than you would have been conceived. My point is simple: DO NOT WASTE THE LOTTERY OF LIFE THAT YOU WON. Take one the little corner of the world you occupy and make it a better place. Work hard, live well, love deeply, help others, and be kind to living things. If each of us did those things, think of what a better world we would have.”

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