My 6 Year Old Is Being Mean To Her Friends Six Degrees From Honest Abe

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Six Degrees From Honest Abe

The past is not as far back as you might think. That’s a subjective statement, I know, but I’m not talking about a first-rate memory of last Christmas compared to an octogenarian’s memory of the Eisenhower years.

No, what I mean is this: If you measure the passing of time using human life as your tailor’s tape, the current inhabitants of the Earth are not. that a far cry from George Washington, William Shakespeare, Pope Constantine or Jesus.

I developed this concept after playing Six Degrees of Separation with some friends one night. Six Degrees is a fun little social exercise based on the idea that not everyone on the planet is connected to one another.

Socially connected, that is, the way you are connected to your neighbors, your colleagues, your friends and your family. This is you people know, for better or worse. So if your colleague’s husband’s former college roommate is an assistant director on the set of The Officeyou are four degrees separated from Emmy-winning actor Steve Carell.

Pretty cool, huh? I started with a bang that night, associating myself two steps with the Beatles. A friend’s father was a famous promoter who had worked with everyone from Elvis to Bob Dylan to Bob Hope, but it was his association with the Beatles that really it affected me. In the framed pictures in his office, the father was smiling proudly with one or another famous man, like a fisherman standing with his latest catch.

So I knew a guy who knew the Beatles and I have both levels, as plain as pie.

But here in the big suburbs of the New York metropolitan area, it’s difficult no to associate yourself by two or three degrees with the famous, the infamous or the influential. In fact, I would say so where you live in the United States, you would have to live in a very insular way without being connected to at least one a famous individual.

Now, I know that this Six Degrees foundation is not exclusive to the famous. It is supposed to apply to every person on the planet. But who cares about my connection to an Australian conservative or an Iraqi terrorist? What I want to know is how I am connected to people of victory; people who left their mark on history.

And so my crowning achievement that night took shape in a flash of unwanted perspective. I had just poured a Coors Light and was raising the head to my lips when I realized that our connections are not limited to the living. I followed this thread for about forty seconds until…Eureka!

I laughed out loud at the effortless connection I had made to one of the most important figures in American history: I am separated by six grades and five score and forty-four years from the sixth head- Abraham Lincoln sat in our country.

Hard to believe, but true as toast. There are only five between me and Honest Abe. All but one is no longer alive and Theodore Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth president, is the fourth level in this series. Besides, the key person in the equation was a member of the Kennedy administration, so it’s just JFK three steps away.

Teddy Roosevelt and JFK notwithstanding, I thought the Lincoln connection was the coolest by far, because how come is it possible to relate to a man who died back in 1865?

Here’s how it works:

A friend of mine is the son of a prominent lawyer in Washington. As a young man, my friend’s father knew the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt. This grandson had good memories of his grandfather Teddy, whose first Secretary of State was Mr John Hay; the same John Hay who, as a much younger man, had been Abraham Lincoln’s personal secretary.

So I knew my friend, my friend knew his father, his father knew TR’s grandson, the grandson knew TR, TR knew Hay, and Hay knew Lincoln.

Very freaky, I thought, and my friends agreed.

On the way home that night, I started asking WHO share the planet with him who at certain moments in history. Did Leonardo da Vinci and Christopher Columbus live together? What about Mozart and George Washington? From this line of thinking emerges “did you know?” a game that my kids really get a kick out of. The facts defy logic until you do the math, but once you do, history seems a little less distant.

My grandmother, for example, was born in 1912. Anyone forty-seven or older that year would have breathed the same air as the living Abraham Lincoln. And anyone over ninety-six in 1912 was born when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, our second and third leaders, who walked the earth yet. An old woman who corresponded with my infant grandmother could have been applied as a child to old John Adams. So if coddling counted as a Six Degrees “relationship” and my grandmother held me when me I was a child, then I could be straight three degrees removed from two signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Against that backdrop, Lincoln looks good recently. When I entered this life in 1961, there were still some people living who were born during Lincoln’s lifetime. Indeed, the real finally Of these Lincoln-era figures, none survived until the mid-1970s, having passed the years between gas-powered cobblestone horse-drawn carriages and car-radio disco on the LA Freeway.

I bet Abe himself would agree, if he were with us today at two hundred years old, that the past really is no however far back you think how come you go back many twenty years.

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