I believe that my dad communicated a life philosophy with his trademark saying.
When I was younger, before my parents’ divorce, when we still lived a nomadic life together, there was one phrase I heard so often that even now, nearing the first anniversary of my dad’s death, I can hear his voice say…with an astounded chuckle and a slow shake of his head, “What a small world!”
He was so predictable with this remark that my brothers and sister and I could be caught miming it behind him almost as soon as he struck up a conversation. It seemed like he could find a connection with anyone: our widowed German landlady, the Japanese grandmother who watched us a few days a week, the guy in line for the bathroom next to him.
For my father, the world was his Kevin Bacon game. No one was more than two degrees of separation away from being friend or family. No one was a foreigner and the world was always wondrously small.
It wasn’t until recently, as I was struggling to find what legacy he’d left me—this man who I hadn’t lived with since I was 11, that I could hear my voice echo his.
Maybe it’s inquisitive or maybe it’s just plain nosy, but it’s something I inherited from him. I think there a lot of us “small-worlders” out there. The “oh, really, you grew up in Poughkeepsie, I lived there once,” or the “that’s such an unusual last name, what’s your background?” or the “did you say you went to Northwestern?” type of person. The person who improbably believes that the woman he or she is speaking with might just know their friend who lives in Nicaragua.
We are those people, who early and often probe for the details that bring us closer to another, looking for some kind of shared history and continue that search wherever we happen to be calling home.
It’s possible that this characteristic is bourn out of necessity or desire to assimilate into new environments. My father had led a wandering childhood. A product of his upbringing, he continued to move every two to three years until his death. We accompanied him around the globe until my parents decided their shared life wasn’t working and we settled in one spot with my mother. In our journeys together, he showed me how not to be intimidated by boundaries, borders or new languages and to make companions of strangers whether we were sitting at a bus stop, climbing mountains, or crossing oceans.
I now think those conversations that began with a “do you know?” or a “have you been to?” were his way of entwining his roots with others, so as to give more strength to his own. Like him, I believe we all share a desire to connect with one another, to discover that we are more alike than at first glance and to find the familiar in this small world.