Miracle of the Tadpoles

You are amazing. Yes, I’m sure you know this, but it’s hard to imagine just what a miracle you truly are.

Your daily life is pretty normal. You make your bed, go to work, and eat lots of potato chips. But you’re totally unaware that you are a rare occurrence in nature.

If we were to diagram how you came to exist, it would boil down to a bunch of statistics and things often found written on the pages of school textbooks, like: “hypotenuse,” “halocarbon-14,” “periosteum membrane,” and “Mister Weinstein’s science class is so boring that I am literally going to die.”

So it’s probably good not to spend too much time thinking about what a miracle you are. Because if you thought about it too often you’d get cocky.

You’re alive. That’s what matters. What’s the point in talking about it? What’s the big deal?

Well, the big deal is this: You are here. Right now. You actually get to exist in the cosmos for a brief blip upon the timeline of the universe. And this is very—I repeat—very rare.

The exact circumstances that formed you predate your mother and father. They predate your ancient ancestors. They reach back to your prehistoric great-great-granddaddies and great-great-grannies who managed to stay alive long enough to make babies.

But I’m out of my league here. I’ll be the first to admit, I know nothing about science or math. Still, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend I didn’t fail Mister Weinstein’s science class. (I did.)

Let’s take a look at the simple probability of your life. We’ll start with your dad meeting your mom. That seems easy enough, right?

Nope. It wasn’t easy. Do you realize how statistically uncommon it is for two people to meet? You’re looking at odds of one in 20,000.

Basically, imagine your mom going to a baseball stadium and introducing herself every male in the seats to find your dad. Chances are your dad is in the nosebleeds because he’s a tightwad. So it’s going to take your mother a long time.

And here is where things get complicated. Once they’ve met, the odds of your parents actually falling in love are even slimmer. Despite what you see in the movies, falling in love is an anomaly according to mathematicians.

I’m skipping over a lot of stuff because frankly I am not smart enough to understand math. But so far, according to some smart scientist’s calculations, the combined odds are one in 40 million that your parents managed to make you.

And I’m just warming up. Stay with me here because your odds of being born get smaller. Let’s fast forward to when you were conceived.

You know how it works. Your parents exchanged wedding rings; they bought a house with a carport and 1.5 bathrooms; they bought a Chevy that uses more gasoline than a small cargo freighter. Now it’s time for them to have a baby. That’s where you come in.

As of this moment you are a microscopic “tadpole” who really wants to be born. But so what? Lots of tadpoles want to be born. In fact, you are just one of 20 million tadpoles who are all fighting each other for the chance.

This means that not only do you have 20 million fierce competitors, but you have to be in extremely good shape to even compete.

And your odds of being a buff little tadpole are not good. Sixty percent of your father’s tadpoles don’t swim forward, they go in circles. Ninety-six percent of them have abnormal morphology—two heads or two tails. Another thirty-two percent will be busy playing on their phones.

See how hard this is? If you’re going to win this race, you have to be in the UPPER FOUR PERCENT of racing tadpoles.

Anyway, the tadpole marathon is about to begin. Better start loosening up those old hamstrings. Look alive, little tadpole.

On your mark.

Get set.

Do the backstroke!

Now you have a lot to think about while you’re swimming through your mother’s biology. First off, the chances of you outrunning 20 million swimmers are pretty crummy. But the chances of you hitting a bullseye are way worse.

To show you just how improbable egg fertilization is, imagine a fish swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. Now envision this fish flopping out of the water at a random geographical spot on the globe. Now imagine the odds of this fish jumping directly through the center of a toilet seat that HAPPENS to be floating nearby.

The odds of this happening—this is true—are one in 700 trillion. Which is pretty close to the actual odds for fertilization, which are one in 400 trillion. With these odds, you have a better chance of getting hit by a UFO piloted by Garth Brooks.

But once you do hit your bullseye, now comes the hard part. Now you have to grow, develop brain tissue, eyes, arms, ears, toes, and a cute little baby butt.

Then there’s delivery itself. Which, if you ask your mom, is no cakewalk.

A lot could go wrong during pregnancy. What if you’re born premature? What if your mother has an accident? What about miscarriages? There are thousands of reasons why you might not have been born.

But you were.

One glad moment in history, you emerged into this bright world. The doctor held you, you drew a breath, your lungs inflated, your circulatory system started surging. You became one of the lucky few to know the marvel of life itself. And here you are. A living miracle.

In other words: Happy birthday to my friend Jeri.


  1. Harriet - Atlanta - July 11, 2020 8:06 am

    That’s the best happy birthday note I’ve ever read. And really just what I needed to hear. Thanks.

  2. Sandi. - July 11, 2020 8:30 am

    I’m 100% certain that your friend Jeri will cherish this birthday letter. It’s a true keepsake, Sean. Sincere thanks for sharing it with your fans.

  3. Naomi - July 11, 2020 11:03 am

    If you just think about how a baby is conceived and born and how its body works–heart, lungs and all of the thousands of body parts that are necessary for it to stay alive and grow, there is no way that you could not believe that there is a God. There has never been a scientist in the history of mankind who could create a baby.

  4. turtlekid - July 11, 2020 11:20 am

    Awesome way of looking at “Circumstances” and realizing that God figured it out! 💟✝️

  5. Jeri Bishop - July 11, 2020 11:42 am

    What a wonderful surprise to be wished a happy birthday from my favorite columnist!, it is one of the best presents I have ever received on my birthday. My first thought when I read the pieces title was that i love tadpoles. They are incredible creatures that turn into frogs – but I’m thankful that I didn’t turn into one! Thank you and my sweet husband for this gift. It made my day especially in this difficult time for everyone. And a happy birthday to my friends Barbars Murphy, Bill Burnham, Michsel Brown, Johnny Dollar, and all the others who share this birthday with me. Bless you and yours, Sean.

  6. Chasity Davis Ritter from Oklahoma - July 11, 2020 11:54 am

    That’s so wonderful. I’m saving it!! Happy birthday Jeri. I don’t know you but yes you are AMAZING!! I believe every word Sean wrote for you!! Be blessed!!

  7. Marge - July 11, 2020 12:31 pm

    Great read for a good friend, Sean! It is not coincidence that Jeri is here on earth! Yes, tadpoles must swim and eggs must be present AND, creation is God’s finest work! Happy Birthday journeys are begun every day…how blessed we are to be here indeed!

  8. cronkitesue - July 11, 2020 1:06 pm

    Ha ha! Good morning wake up call. Happy birthday Jeri!

  9. Helen Taylor Andrews - July 11, 2020 1:07 pm

    I’ve always said that none of us are here by accident. All of us are miracles and part of God’s Big Blueprint. Each of us have a giant ‘network’ of ancestors who met, married, and had kids. Somewhere along the pedigree chart, each of us came into existence, just as you wrote about. I loved this story since I am a genealogy buff! Much love to you and Jamie!!

  10. Jan - July 11, 2020 1:23 pm

    Amazing stuff! Just what I needed to hear this morning. Feeling pretty down on myself… Thanks, Sean!

  11. Eddy - July 11, 2020 2:10 pm


  12. Berryman Mary M - July 11, 2020 2:41 pm

    That is a wonderful description of the “birds and the bees” and how we all came to be. Happy Birthday to Jeri! Maybe he be blessed to know what a miracle he is!

  13. Michael Bishop - July 11, 2020 2:48 pm

    Sean, I’ll write you personally later, but in this place allow me to thank you wholeheartedly for writing this birthday message to Jeri. Her eyes grew wide. She choked up. She shook her head. She cried but recovered and smiled. We had already fed the cat, but now we went outside to administer her daily dose of a veterinarian-approved thyroid medication. When we’d finished Jeri said to me, ‘You’re something else,” and, as a reward, she gave the cat a little more food. But the truth is, Sean, that *you’re* something else, for here you surpassed my own high expectations for affirmation, uplift, and wonderment, and I can’t thank you enough. (I should be in good odor around here for at least the rest of this week.) As Jeri has already said, “Bless you and yours,” including Jamie and all the dogs, cats, and semi-sentient pickups that you generously number among your beloved kin. Bless y’all indeed, dear sir.

  14. Michael Bishop - July 11, 2020 3:07 pm

    I’ll write you a personal note later, Sean, but let me thank you wholeheartedly for telling Jeri “Happy birthday” at the end of this wonderful column and thereby casting every word in it in a fresh particular light while at the same time making each one apply to every reader fortunate enough to encounter this eloquent piece. Jeri read it aloud, but at your final paragraph she looked across at me. She choked up. Then she recovered and smiled.

    We’d already fed the cat, but now we went outside to administer her daily dose of a veterinarian-approved thyroid medication. When we’d finished, Jeri said, “You’re something else,” but actually, Sean, *you’re* something else, and with this generous column you overshot even my high expectations for affirmation, wonder, and uplift. (I should be in good odor around here for at least the next week.) So, here, please allow me to echo Jeri’s comment “Bless you and yours,” and please include in that number your remarkable Jamie and all the dogs, cats, and maybe even quasi-sentient pickups that you regard as beloved kin. Bless y’all indeed, dear sir.

  15. Ellouise Connolly - July 11, 2020 4:44 pm

    Happy Birthday, Jeri…Best gift ever from Michael and Sean…Really a gift to us all. Love you much.

  16. Linda Moon - July 11, 2020 4:55 pm

    Happy Birthday, Jeri. You’ve got a friend in Sean. And thanks to him we were all reminded of the science behind the miracle of LIFE. Live it well. It is a grand and miraculous Design!

  17. Jannie Bryant - July 11, 2020 5:52 pm

    You hit it out of the ballpark Sean. Again. Thank you.

  18. MAM - July 11, 2020 6:23 pm

    I already understand the distant odds. My husband and I often say how happy we are that we met in a state far from either state that we were raised in. And 52 years ago later this month, we got married. And our two daughters were born. Two more now-adult miracles. God works miracles every day all day long, and He continues to, if we would just listen to Him and pay attention to the small and large miracles He performs!

  19. PATRICIA BERTHA-MATTINGLY - July 11, 2020 7:48 pm

    “Can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all”
    lyrics from: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
    Song by Neutral Milk Hotel

  20. Andrea Bryant - July 11, 2020 9:11 pm

    You gave an amazing illustration of how unique we really are! We really should enjoy this life we have and feel the wonder of it all. Thanks, Sean

  21. Estelle - July 12, 2020 7:37 am

    What a wonderful birthday gift for Jeri and a delight for your readers.

  22. Pilgrim - July 12, 2020 3:23 pm


  23. Cynthia Woods - July 12, 2020 9:09 pm

    Sean, Do you know why it takes a couple million “tadpoles” to fertilize just one egg? None of them will stop and ask directions.” 😆 Thanks for your story that makes me feel pretty dang special. You’re good at that . 😘

  24. Carla Susan Grahl - July 13, 2020 12:00 am

    Great read THANKS

  25. Ann - July 13, 2020 2:17 pm

    I guess ,then, this makes EACH ONE of us pretty special!❤️

  26. John Williams - July 14, 2020 3:19 pm

    Well, that puts it in perspective. Happy birthday, Jeri!

  27. Fonda Wilson - August 5, 2020 7:56 pm

    I must be the last timeline poster to this blog as today is August 5th. There are days that I do not have time to read your blogs but I always save them until I do “have” or “make” time (there is a difference). As I heard long ago my dad weakly respond to a nurse’s request the last time he was hospitalized, “I may be the slowest horse getting out of the gate, but I’ll make it”.

    And so I have made time to read all your blogs that I had saved. They had traveled along with me on my trusty I-Pad from Daphne, AL to Sapphire, NC.

    A good and thoughtful birthday present giver are you!

  28. Mary Hicks - August 23, 2020 2:26 am

    The amazing wonder of it all!! God is good all the time!!!


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