The 6 degrees of separation between us is fast-shrinking

The six degrees of separation theory says we are six or fewer steps away from one another; somehow we are all ultimately connected.  It’s easy to see when we experience that “friend of a friend” thing. Oh, I didn’t know you know her too! Or that person you meet in Florida and discover you’re from the same hometown in New York. The six degrees of separation theory appears to be fast-shrinking and may in fact be more of an arms-length.


At no other time than when we are put through life’s challenges does our connectivity become more apparent. 


We all know someone who’s going through or has gone through cancer.  We all know someone with Alzheimer’s or someone caring for a family or friend who’s diagnosed.  We all know someone whose military son or daughter, mother or father, sister or brother has gone to war. We all know someone who ____________ (Fill in the blank). And please keep in mind, there are plenty of hurting people who can benefit from a dose of compassion.


The degrees of separation appear fast-shrinking in life’s difficult journeys.


We are ultimately connected to the heart-breaks and heart-swells of others. Walking alongside them is your practice run. In the “off-season” continue to exercise your muscle of compassion.  The degrees of separation are shrinking. Your “on-season” will come … sooner or later we all have one (or more).  The number of people going through difficulties is climbing.


This year alone, an estimated 1,685,210 people will be diagnosed with cancer. Nearly 44 million have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia and more than 40% of their caregivers report high or very high emotional stress.  America’s Elite Forces will continue deployments to 147 Countries (that’s 75% of the nations on the planet) and bravely cope with family separations for up to 15 months.


The degrees of separation are in fact fast-shrinking. Plenty of people can benefit from a mega-dose of your compassion.


Surviving the incredible shrinking plane seat  aboard a Delta Boeing 777 among 220 other passengers provides yet another example of the fast-shrinking separation between us.  Arm rests and aisles have been slimmed to wedge an extra seat into each row.  That gave me 18.5 inches of ticketed space on this week’s flight. Being the 5’ lightweight I am does have its advantages!  I really felt for the 6’7” guy stuck in the middle at less than arm’s length from me.


Growing up, my siblings and I bargained and begged to avoid the middle seat.  Squabbles would erupt over who sat where last.  No one ever called dibs to sit in the middle, and they still don’t. The Independent Traveler says the majority of Americans would rather get stuck in traffic or go on a blind date than sit in the middle seat of a full flight.


Well, this flight was full, including the middle seats. Before take-off, the young man next to me revealed he’d never been on a plane – except to jump out.  He had gone skydiving once but this was his first time in a coach seat. I helped him navigate the trip screen, tilt his seat, and adjust his air flow – all novelties to him.


We didn’t experience that “friend of a friend” thing or discover being from the same hometown. Still, the six degrees of separation was fast-shrinking in ways other than physical space.  Trevor was departing for a two-year trip mission away from family.  His deepest concern was leaving his grandmother who was battling Parkinson’s disease and Lewy Body Dementia.  His mom and four aunts were all turn-taking to care for her.  She still knew him as he said goodbye; Trevor knew that probably wouldn’t be the case upon his return. There we were, in our respective 18.5 inches of space, connected at the heart by the rare LBD that afflicts more than 1.4 million people in the United States.


The degrees of separation fast-shrunk as we shared life’s difficult journey.

My eyes filled with tears as Trevor shared his grandfather’s fatigue in trying to care for his grandmother.  I mirrored his story … with the story of my mother’s Alzheimer’s.  Generational differences were seemingly erased as we mirrored one another’s heart for the hurting, God’s amazing grace, and the incredible power of hope.


As we begun the descent from 30,000 feet, I handed that 19-year-old guy stuck in the middle a copy of When Your Grandma Forgets.  He started reading, right there next to me, absorbing words and characters of an all-too-familiar difficult journey, interspersed with nuggets of hope.


We are all ultimately and meaningfully connected, despite any messages to the contrary.  There are plenty of people who can benefit from a mega-dose of compassion. Perhaps now, more than ever, the world needs that magnified.

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