Have you ever heard of the six degrees of separation? It’s a scientific concept from the 1960s that says every person in the world is six or fewer steps (where each step is a friend of a friend of a friend) from each other.

Maybe you’ve played the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” J. Law, for example, is five degrees from Kevin Bacon.

The New York Times reported that there are actually just 4.74 people linking you and just about any random stranger on the other side of the world.

The problem with degrees of separation is that they can be numbing. Separation distorts reality. Something happening far away to people I don’t know can feel so removed; almost unreal.

Living in the inland, mountain/desert terrain of Utah, I feel a lot of degrees separating me from the tropical climate of the Caribbean. There are 3,090 miles between Puerto Rico and me. I don’t speak Spanish. I know very little about the culture.

There are a few pictures and some bleak news online about Hurricane Maria, but so much is unknown and, so far, unreported, that I don’t know if I’d pay much attention…

Except for one thing. One kinda big thing. As of 2014, I am only one degree of separation from Puerto Rico. In 2014, my brother married my sister-in-law Lilia, whose twin sister, nieces, brother and mother all live there, right in the path of Maria.

Suddenly, she has no contact with the sister she talks to every single day. She has no idea how they have been impacted, whether they have food or water, whether their houses are still standing, whether they are hurt… All she knows is what she can gather from the news – that it’s really, really bad, there’s no electricity (and likely won’t be for months) and the main road between her family in Cidra and the nearest emergency aid station is washed out. For several days she has had to worry and wonder and hope and pray with no real news about her family.

Living in a place where a hurricane will never happen, I have a new perspective about what a hurricane is – what it means. Lilia narrowed that gap for me – closed in the degrees of separation.

And as much sympathy as I feel for Lilia, I am also completely confident in her. She has survived unspeakable things that most of us are safely four or five or six degrees away from. She is strong and brave. She is more than strong and brave – she has faith, and she does not give up.

So I wait while she waits, I pray for her and her family, I hope in solidarity with her and I’ll work with her to help, however we can.

Learn more and donate to disaster relief for Puerto Rico here!

Sisters Lilia and Lilian in Cidra, Puerto Rico, May 2016