Family, Work

degrees of separation


I.  AM.  COLD.

I cradle the hot cup of tea in my hands to warm them as various HVAC contractors submit quotes for our gutted unit.   With the loss of the Heat Ventillation A/C unit brings the warmth of our neighboring businesses; particularly the new ones who just moved in behind us in September.

I watched from the bay door as the three different fork lifts maneuvered around the large piece of machinery upon the truck’s flatbed.  Each tow motor came from different businesses to assist our neighbors move this into their building.  The hubs grinned from across the way as he maneuvered our fork lift.  Working together.


While the middle son snapped the mobile shot of the clouds, driving home yesterday, the youngest asked if God was up there.  How is he everywhere?   When the unexpected question finally registered in my mind I thought of the six degrees of separation idea; originated by a Hungarian, Frigyes Karinthy, in 1929.  I am currently reading about this in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point and have been pondering this theory.  I voiced aloud the idea that a friend of a friend, can connect anyone around the world within six different people.  I glanced in the rearview and saw my youngest consider this; his face questioning.  It was then that I remembered his earlier query.

“We have  zero degrees of separation from God,” I tell him.  “He is everywhere.” 

“Like Santa?”  he asked.

We had arrived to our destination with two potted pine trees.  The middle son, master-of-the-obvious (MOTO for short) says, “Mom.  Why do you keep giving stuff to people?  Each day you have some package or thing that you HAVE to mail or give.  Why are we here?  YOU are Santa.”

The husband, surprisingly, did not repeat the sentiments of our son as we previewed our financial statements to assess sales.   As vendors and customers drop by he notes the passing of gifts and items; a thank you for loyalty.   But this holiday season I am released by the unspoken rules of give and take.  I am not bothered by being the giver.  I have finally learned to not expect anything in return.

Most years I cringe when I receive an unexpected gift; hustling or apologizing for not thinking to give one in return.  It is mentally taxing to evaluate the cost of a gift received and finding something appropriate to reciprocate.   The expectation of reciprocity created too much mental work for me and I have been able to let it go; my nuclear family included.

My MIL (mother-in-law) changes the channel when the UNICEF or ASPCA advertisements air.  The deep sunken eyes of third world children and caged dogs are too much for her to bear.  During the holiday season everyone fights for your spending dollar.  They count on people’s giving spirit; opening their wallets once a year.  By why not on ordinary days?  Why do people only feel compelled to give during the holidays?  Does giving during the season really cover-up the guilt for wanting and receiving?

I share the story of Saint Nicholas with the boys; the kind man who gave money anonymously to those in need.  It is with this spirit that we should proffer our gifts.

Opening a door for an elderly woman,

Lending an ear to the chatty, but lonesome, person in the grocery store,

Inviting an acquaintance for coffee.

These things do not require a lot of money or forethought.  The sole requirement.  Time.

The text came at 6:15 AM from my long lost girlfriend who lives two miles away.  Today she is substitute teaching at our elementary school and wondered if she would see me.  It has been that long since we’ve touched base that she had no idea I re-entered the work force.  Most mornings my boys are dropped-off at school so I arrive when our business doors open at 8 AM.  My schedule is full as we reconcile books for the end-of-the year and prepare to close for the holidays.


Time.   As I parked and emerged from my car in our school parking lot the years had melted away.  When the big earthquake hit I huddled in bed with she, and her newly married husband; having been evacuated from my apartment.  My eight year old, who walked along side us, was the newborn she helped me deliver as my husband held my left hand and she held my right.   The teachers and staff who see my sons, daily, were surprised to discover this fact.  The two of us have not sat down together in over three years.

Within a ten minute period, standing in an elementary school office,  we had several shared acquaintances and the six degrees of separation came to mind.  The second grade teacher is her neighbor, the new first grade teacher is a friend and our list of shared friends grew.   It is this friend that brought me to this communityThe staff curiously observed and listened as each new person walked in the door and knew one of us.  Our network is only by one degree of separation. 

She was my reminder.  The time cultivated in friendship, if it is true, can forego the every day minute details.  I don’t need to see her every day.  Our values and characters are essentially the same as they were twenty five years ago.    The same goes for the bff in the midwest, the childhood friend up north and the friends, like the one above, within a two mile radius (or more).   

Time is the great equalizer.  Reciprocity is not expected.  And the giving of self, instead of creating walls and protective borders, is rewarded ten times over.  I am grateful for the reminder.