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I recently recorded Oprah Winfrey’s Master Class, and I’ve been watching it in pieces. I have little kids, after all, so I do everything in pieces. I rarely watch Oprah’s show – in fact, I haven’t seen an entire episode since our TV died in November, 2008. We’ve had a TV again for almost five months, and I have yet to tune in. But the Master Class, for whatever reason, intrigued me, and I’ve been enjoying it.
Early on in the first episode Oprah points out the improbability of every person’s existence. The odds against you being here are really staggeringly high. The average man produces 1500 sperm a second, or about 130 million a day. Just think about that. There are only 30 million people in Canada, total. A woman has about 300,000 eggs. So if you want to start playing with statistics, you can see that winning the lottery seems pretty likely compared to ever being born.
What does this mean, though? Does the fact that our very existence is a long shot mean something about us, and the significance of our lives? I’m not really sure. That’s probably a question for a philosopher or a theologian, and I am neither. But I will say that it makes me look at my own children differently. I can’t imagine having different kids than the two I ended up with. The fact that their existence is so tremendously unlikely makes them seem even more precious. Of course, I would have felt the same way about them if I’d had different children, but the fact is that I didn’t have different children. I had these ones, and they are totally unique and irreplaceable.
If my children are unique and irreplaceable, then I am unique and irreplaceable, too. And so are you. And so is that guy who usually sits across from you on the train, or the teacher at your kid’s preschool who is always just a little too perky at 8:30am drop-off. We’re all statistical improbabilities, and the fact that we’re here at all is amazing.
This could all just be random chance. I’m not so sure that it isn’t. But as I thought about it, here’s the conclusion that I reached – if my life is so rare and valuable and totally unlikely, I sure as heck want to do something with it. I want to wring all of the living that I can out of my time here. Viewed this way, our entire lives are sort of like a week-long tropical vacation that took over a year to plan – a brief and precious interlude, not to be wasted.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I expect myself to achieve the same kind of fame and fortune that Oprah has. It also doesn’t mean that I expect myself to give up all past-times that don’t directly contribute to the world in some way. Sometimes, doing nothing in particular is just what is called for. And sometimes, success is measured in how many slobbery, open-mouthed baby kisses you get, not how big your house is.
What I’m saying is that, to go with the Oprah theme, I want to live my own best life. A life that I generally enjoy living, and that fits me, quirks and all. Because each one of those quirks is a gift, really. It lets me know that I’m me, imperfect and unfinished and completely myself. There can’t be another one of me – Oprah told me so – and so I am going to embrace my me-ness. I suspect that may really be the secret to life, in the end.
When you consider how unlikely it is that you would ever be born, how do you feel? Does it make your life seem more precious, or not? Please share your thoughts!