The theory of Six Degrees of Separation is one that has always amazed me. It refers to the idea that, if a person is one step away from each person they know, and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people they know, then everyone is at most six steps away from every other person on Earth. I work with someone who is married to a Goddaughter of Queen Elizabeth, therefore I am two degrees of separation away from the Queen. When I was in grade eight, a new student from another city enrolled in our school. Our teacher asked me if I would mind sharing my locker with the new student. She and I became friends, and I invited her home for dinner one night. As my mother and my new friend stood chatting in the kitchen, they discovered that my new friend was closely related to us through a mutual relative in South Africa. Two degrees of separation -- it's a small world.
The following story is one that I have posted about previously, but I was thinking about the story today, and I thought I would post it again for those of you who had not read it. It is a true story.
I grew up in a small town on the edge of a forest and my friend Helen* lived on the other side of the creek from our house. We spent all our time at each other’s houses, playing hopscotch, skipping, swimming, playing with dolls and doing all the other things girls do. We went through elementary school together and we ate lunch together every day. We would often trade lunches, and I always looked forward to the days when Helen’s mother made her chocolate bar and banana sandwiches. My mother never made me chocolate bar and banana sandwiches, and I thought they were wonderful.
Helen and I grew apart as we got into high school and we found we had different interests. Helen was very athletic and involved in girl’s basketball, where I was more involved with the school choir and painting. We went our separate ways and didn’t see each other again after graduation. Helen became a teacher and moved to another city, and I got married. After my husband died, it was necessary for me to go back to work, so I became a legal assistant with a large law firm. I worked for a senior partner and his junior assistant, a young articling student named Paul*.
Paul was a very sweet young man and everyone liked him. He was dark, attractive and sort of self-effacing, but he was a very promising articling student. However, he had made one serious mistake in his personal life, which required a formal hearing before he could become a lawyer. When the hearing concluded, it was agreed that Paul could become a lawyer and practice law, but on the condition that he move to a law firm in another city.
In the meantime, Helen had been diagnosed with a condition that required surgery. The doctor who performed the surgery botched it, leaving Helen in chronic pain. Helen sued the doctor but she lost the law suit. By a twist of coincidence, the law firm representing the doctor was the same law firm where Paul now practiced law.
Helen was frustrated with the outcome of her case, and after exhausting all appeals, she set out on a mission to take justice into her own hands. She went to the law firm that had represented the doctor, with the intent to shoot the lawyer, and she accidentally shot Paul instead and killed him. She was apprehended while she was on her way to shoot the doctor who had botched her operation. After a lengthy trial, Helen was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Two people whom I had known quite closely at different times in my life, had their lives intersect with each other in a way that would turn out to be devastating for them both. At the time this happened, I had not yet heard of the theory of Six Degrees of Separation. Neither Helen nor Paul knew that I was a common factor in each of their lives. I wonder how often this happens every day as we weave to and fro throughout each other's lives.