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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

Common links often easy to find

I continue to be surprised at how linked we all are.

No, not through our devices and new media but actually to one another as real people. When you meet a stranger, that person really isn’t. You just need to have the right conversation – as the six degrees of separation theory shows over and over. In it, everybody and everything is just six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from everybody or everything else in the world. You’d think that would bring us closer.

As I move through life, I find unexpected connections happening more often. I do write for this newspaper, so that gives me some extra exposure. But when I hear from people about a story I’ve done, it’s usually in the postscript that a connection is revealed.

For example, a recent story about a historic home in Spokane prompted an email from a woman who told me it was her grandmother who had operated a restaurant in that house. And by the way, she said, she recalled I had once written about my mother having worked in retail, and she recalled some years back working at The Crescent with an older woman whose daughter worked in journalism. Was that me? Yes.

Last year I wrote about the actor Robert Hastings, who spent every Thanksgiving in Spokane with his daughter, and I got an email from a woman who recalled how as a teenager she had appeared on a national radio program with Hastings. In her communication she mentioned her late husband’s name. He had been a faculty member at Eastern Washington University, and I knew him slightly when I also worked there. And her son, currently on the EWU faculty, is someone I know much better and who is still a ready resource when I write about certain historic subjects.

But it’s not just that I’ve been in Spokane long enough to make these kinds of connections. It has happened for decades, and not just to me, and not just inside a small geographic circle. It really is a small world.

One of my sons was in bustling Seoul, South Korea, a few years back when he heard someone call out his name. Turns out it was someone he knew when they were both students in Beijing, China. And my youngest son was coming out of an audition in New York City, when someone called out to him. It was a woman he knew from his days at Spokane Civic Theatre.

And back when my husband was a student at the University of Florida, having just arrived there from his home in Alaska, he stopped by the side of a rural road to help two mature ladies standing by their car. They had run out of gas, and he brought some back for them. As they thanked him, they asked his name, and when he told them, they said they had worked with someone with the same last name during World War II in Baltimore. And that turned out to be Bruce’s father.

Or another time when Bruce and I were newlyweds we had a getaway weekend in Seattle and were walking along the waterfront downtown when we noticed a police car paralleling us as we walked. We hadn’t robbed any banks or anything, but it was still unnerving – even more so when the car accelerated and pulled up ahead of us and an officer got out and started walking toward us. He had gone to high school in Anchorage with Bruce and recognized him. He just wanted to say hello.

Not to get too kumbayaish here, but seeing how connected we all seem to be without even knowing it – across nations, races, religions and what-have-you – it sure seems to me that it should be easier to see what we have in common rather than what separates us.

I recently interviewed a young man from Ukraine who came to America with his father, a refugee who had been persecuted for his religion. The boy had spent many years with his mother as a missionary in areas of Eastern Europe where there was often risk in what they were doing. He attended a Muslim school for a while, which required him to study the Quran as part of his education.

What he told me was that, while he remained steadfast in his own faith, he saw so many areas of commonality between Christianity and Islam. Both share many of the same prophets, the Ten Commandments, the virgin birth of Jesus and more. Of course, there are differences and political realities, but what made me feel so hopeful was seeing this young man be able at his tender age to focus on what they had in common, not what separated them.

And it didn’t take six degrees for him to get there. Just an open mind.

Voices correspondent  Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@comcast. net. Previous columns are available at www. spokesman.com/ columnists.
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