If it is a small world—and we often say it is—then the Mennonite world is even smaller.
A theory called six degrees of separation proposes that a person could be connected to anyone in the world through no more than five people. If this theory is correct, then I know everybody in the world through the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend.
Mennonites, on the other hand, have about two degrees of separation. Most of us can find a relative or an old Bible school friend among the acquaintances of any Mennonite stranger we meet. In fact, there’s a good chance we’ll discover that we ourselves are related, if we talk long enough. Even I, with a shot of non-Mennonite Scotch-Irish simmering in my veins, can make connections.
But I never met a lot of Mennonites named Stephanie, and when I married a Leinbach—not one of the common Mennonite surnames, like Zimmerman, Weaver, or Martin—I considered my chances of being the only Mennonite Stephanie Leinbach were fairly high.
I held onto that illusion for three weeks of newly wedded bliss, and then I met Stephanie Leinbach. She was from Colorado and married to my husband’s third cousin. So much for being one-of-a-kind. But all those Esther Martins had survived meeting themselves twenty times over, and I managed to recover from my disappointment.
The Other Stephanie Leinbach and I lost track of each other for nearly six years, until I wrote my miscarriage book. I hadn’t forgotten her; on the book, I had included my middle initial with my name because of her. Our name is uncommon enough that most people wouldn’t consider there were two of us running around. A middle initial wasn’t much, but it might help.
Shortly after the book was published, I received an email from the Other Stephanie Leinbach, and we began corresponding. I learned she had five little girls, two of them twins. They now lived in Indiana, closer to family. You know, the usual facts people swap when getting acquainted.
And then she asked me for my daughters’ birth dates. Her twins, Julie and Genevie, had turned four on March 29. Her Erika would be two in July. How close were they in age to my girls? And did we pronounce Tarica like Erika?
I about fell off my chair. Jenica had turned four on March 29!
What were the chances of two Stephanie Leinbachs having three girls on the same day, with names that sounded like we planned it? And we had an Erika and Tarica (pronounced nearly the same) a few months apart.
It was coincidence, nothing but coincidence, but it still gave me goosebumps. Before you ask, no, we are not twins separated at birth. Of that I’m certain. We are far too different for that.
The Other Stephanie Leinbach is why I use my middle initial. It looks pretentious, but in our small Mennonite world, with only two degrees of separation, we are too easily confused. Since she has more friends than I do and is more widely known, she gets most of the credit for the stuff I’ve had published, despite the J. And now that she’s recently stuck her toe into the publishing waters, I expect even more confusion to come. Two Stephanie Leinbachs who write? How will they ever tell us apart?
It’s not that hard, especially in person. If you meet a Stephanie Leinbach and she is outgoing and telling many stories and inviting you over for supper, it’s not me.