Friday, May 25, 2012

Much less than six degrees in Baltimore

When I thought up the concept for today's entry, I searched for how long it had been since the movie "Six Degrees of Separation" was released.  Much to my surprise, that movie came out in 1993.  I could not believe it had been almost 20 years since the movie (and even longer since the play).  In any case, sometimes it seems hard to believe that I could be separated by just six degrees from everyone in the world.  What this week has helped to demonstrate is that the "world" of Baltimore is certainly much smaller than that in many ways.  And, while I am not sure whether that is "good, bad, or otherwise" it is interesting.  While I believe in free will and not predestination, I do believe that God plays some mystical role in creating opportunities and the mosaic of people I know represents an incredibly interesting result of that patchwork of opportunities.

For example, just yesterday, I attended the university's main commencement for the first time in my sixteen years as a faculty member.  As I was processing in, the faculty marshal seated in the front row was trying to get my attention.  The faculty marshal was a fellow runner whom I had first met when I was familiarizing myself with the Baltimore 10 Miler course almost a year before.  We had met in person only a handful of times, but he picked me out despite my academic regalia.  I am sure I will see him again--he is running the Baltimore 10 Miler again.  What does it mean?  I don't know but it was very interesting.

On stage during commencement, I was seated next to a woman from the School of Nursing.  She asked me abou the pronunciation of one of the Nursing graduates.  I recognized the first name and was pondering the last name.  It was only later that I realized the last name belonged to someone I've run with numerous times.  The reason I failed to recognize the fact at first is that we know each other almost strictly by first name.  There were over 150 undergraduate nurses who completed the program this year. Of all the ones my academic colleague could have pointed out, why that one?

My academic colleague had a daughter who graduated from the School of Public Health this year. I also had a role to play at that ceremony and had met up with her daughter for the first time in months as she was seated on the end of a row I invited to stand and proceed to the stage.

My fellow runner had just become Facebook friends with a Canadian physician who took my health economics class last October to December.  I had not seen the Canadian physician since December, but met up with her during graduation and got back in touch to congratulate her.

The nurse/runner went to the same undergraduate college as an MPH student whom I had mentored for her capstone project and an MHS student whom I will mentor when he becomes a PhD student in the fall.  The latter two had been introduced through a mutual faculty acquaintance.

At a recent conference, the MPH student mentioned in the paragraph above had a chance to present a paper we had worked on together.  There, she met the last student with whom I had written a published paper as well as a medical student who will be coming to the MPH program at Johns Hopkins for the next academic year and who would be interested in working with me.  I can anticipated that this might lead to another "generation" of a student whose work will lead to a publishable paper.

While I have met and mentored many students from the Philadelphia area this is the first year I met a student from my own high school.  The connections to the Philadelphia area are quite strong.  And when the School of Public Health recently published an article about the group I run with (see the mention of the nursing student above), a staff member in my department asked where I grew up as she thought the local paper might be interested.  Well, I grew up outside Philadelphia.  The MPH student I am still mentoring who was also mentioned in the article in the School's magazine also grew up outside Philadelphia.  And the organization for which I run as a volunteer and for which she runs as a volunteer and works for directly is headquartered in Philadelphia.  As a result, we are thinking that this might be a perfect opportunity for some more publicity.

I met a person at my chiropractor's office this week for the first time.  I had heard about her last year as she ran her first marathon (in  Philadelphia).  It turns out that she went to the same college as the MPH student I mentioned in the last paragraph as well as being the roommate of the woman who had run the Sunday School program at my church for the last two years.

These are just a few examples of interesting crossings and all of these have occurred just in last couple of weeks.  What does it mean?  I don't know.  What I do know is that these opportunities are almost all tied to running.  Life has not been "perfect" by any means since I started running again back in 2006 and got seriously going in 2009.  But this tangled web of interaction is just amazing and it suggests to me that things are coming together and pointing in a certain direction for a reason.  What is that reason?  I don't know.  All I know for sure is that the grace of God has led me to something good and I believe that continuing to run and continuing to try to do good and to help others through running is part of what I am here to do.  

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