Things I Know 51 of 365: There are 100 people in the world

Do not compute the totality of your poultry population until all the manifestations of incubation have been entirely completed.

– William Jennings Bryan

I’ve spent this weekend with my godmother and her family.

Karen and my mom met in science class on the first day of seventh grade. Family legend has it they were best friends from then on.

When explaining to people I’d be down in D.C. for a Bat Mitzvah, I’ve been asked for whom. After a few dozen rounds of “my godmother’s youngest daughter,” I switched to “my godsister.”

It slipped out so naturally, I didn’t realize right away that this wasn’t actually a thing. Or, at least, it hadn’t been until now.

If you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends, these people are the family my parents chose for me when I was born.

There’s something pretty tremendous about that.

When I lived in Florida, Ricki, a journalist friend of mine, wrote a profile piece on a local resident who captained a wooden sailboat.

In appreciation for the profile piece, the captain invited Ricki and a few of her friends out on his boat.

The majority of the cruise featured the captain at the helm, me at his side and the three others sunbathing on the bow of the ship.

The captain had spent most of his life on the water, and I took my cue to sit and soak in his stories.

Now, many of them started with, “I can only tell you this because the girls are all up front,” and ended with a good-natured elbow to the ribs, but one thing has stuck with me – right to the stickiest part of my brain – as the other stories have faded away.

“There are 100 people in the world,” said the captain, “The rest are just extras.”

My understanding and interpretation of his words has vacillated and evolved in the intervening years. Always, though, the thought comforts me.

It’s easy to get lost in a world of nearly 7 billion souls or a city of 6 million or even a school of 500.

Remembering there are 100 people in my world, helps me to anchor in the tempest of data, friending, following, redditing, and stumbling upon.

I know 100 is a soft number, and I don’t have a catalog or list anywhere. I tried once to no avail. Knowing they are there proved more important than knowing exactly who they are.

Sometimes, I’ll meet someone I’m certain is a person in my world only to find central casting has sent them for a walk-on role. Sometimes, I’ve absent-mindedly ignored the first moments of what were to become some of my deepest and most lasting friendships.

Nel Noddings writes about the potentiality of being overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for everyone whom we come into contact. The 100 people in my world are the way I avoid that feeling and keep myself sublimely whelmed by the ethical imperative to care for others.

Though I’ve seen Karen and her family a handful of times in the last couple decades, I am reminded of their place as people in my world.

Something peaceful happens each time I am reminded of this.

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