One of the best moments this year happened when I substitute-taught a girls Child Care class one day. (Not necessarily your regular public school “Child Care for Teen Moms” course, but more of a “Child Care for 18-Year-Olds-Who-Will-Marry-Very-Young” class, which I oversaw for a single day. #mennoculture
It was THE DAY OF THE BIRTHING VIDEO.
We watched (kosher parts of) an ancient 1980s film, the title of which was something about “miracles” and “life.” The dusty cover indicated it had won an Emmy award, mostly due to the incredible microimagery of Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson. Ugh. So. Cool. No CGI here, but rather actual photographic footage of a singular sperm uniting with an egg. Sam Roberts at the New York Times writes, “Using high-definition, three-dimensional ultrasound; a scanning electron microscope; advanced fiber optics; color filters to tint the photographic gray scale; and wide-angle lenses, Mr. Nilsson documented the journey to conception by some two million sperm as they swam six inches upstream from a woman’s cervix to the eggs traveling down her fallopian tubes.”
So you can tolerate the screeching 1980s educational video musical score (you know the ones?) if only by marveling at the incredible photography.
I suppose life is a miracle, and beholding it at a microscopic level makes you stop for a moment. I was struck by something very particular while watching the film.
The tired narrator was droning on, dispelling all kinds of facts about sperm and eggs and fertilization, when he listed a statistic that stopped us in our tracks.
“Of the 200 million sperm released, only about 50 sperm make it past the uterus to the Fallopian tubes. Then, only a single sperm unites with the egg.”
“WHAT?!” I interrupted the bored movie-watching silence. I was incredulous!
Think about it.
Each sperm has a different DNA. This means essentially that Daddy is donating 200 million different options of people, when babies are being made.
And only one sperm makes it. One unique sperm, with its own unique DNA. One unique sperm unites with a mother’s unique egg to create you.
You made it. You made it. You beat out 199,999,999 other people to be here!
Do you realize how incredible it is that both of us are living on this planet, at this time, as we are?
It is a fantastical miracle, incomprehensible to the human mind, that you and I exist together in this moment.
I looked at my senior girls: “You belong here. You belong here. You belong here at this school! You were designed to be here at this time, at this school, in this moment, with these people.”
Later, during a girls chapel one morning, I geeked out again with my sperm facts. “Of those 200 million sperm created, only one created you. God designed you so perfectly to live in this moment.”
The Psalmist, in Psalm 139, also ponders God’s choice in creation:
“You created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
I’ve been struck with such an incredible awe since watching that science-y birthing video one day in Child Care class. The knowledge of my incredible existence inspires me to want to live well. To live with eyes wide open. And to love well. To be grateful for my friends and all the incredible people I’ve come to know, especially those I’ve met since moving to Pennsylvania.
This knowledge seems to make every moment matter. I want to make my life count. (I mean, I do kind of owe it to 199,999,999 other little DNA globs.)
I find myself meditating, as Mary Oliver put it, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Speaking of Mary Oliver, what a better way to wish you all happy graduation, happy summer, and happy vacation than with a reading of Oliver’s “The Summer Day.”
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
In this post-school summer season, I wish you three things:
- Joy in learning, especially the joy of learning nerdy facts about God’s creation,
- Time and space for awe and gratefulness, perhaps a moment or two like Oliver’s stop-still interaction with a simple(!) grasshopper,
- Motivation for life-changing acts of the will. Because it’s pretty incredible about the Fallopian tubes. So please understand how desperately serious I am when I say: “Don’t waste your life.”
Make it count.