The mystery of connectivity. The human kind, not Ted Stevens’ infamous series of tubes. While I am entertained by way cool tools like Facebook, it is the more esoteric pathways that exist outside the realm of linearity that are most compelling to me.

I’m often reminded of the whimsical distinction made by Kurt Vonnegut in Cat’s Cradle, a favorite from my “ingest everything,” book reading adolescence. He identifies two types of groups, the granfaloon and the karass. The granfaloon is an entity that has recognition but does not have real meaning. An example of a granfaloon in the book is being a Hoosier. One of his characters takes a trip with fellow Indianans. Other than the fact that they come from the same geographic region, they have no real significance in each other’s lives.

A different sort of grouping is a karass. These are the people whose lives are connected to your own in often mysterious yet profound ways. Usually they are not part of any of your more obvious granfalloons, but in the end it is their involvement in your life that has the greatest influence.

Recognizing members of your karass is not easy. But as you live your life, certain people just keep showing up. And how often do you meet someone who knows several of your friends, all from different walks of life? In this Vonnegutian view of things, the members of your karass are not just your soulmates or cotravelers. A karass is a soul group, and some of the members of yours may be there for reasons other than companionship and similar tastes in music, art and food.

When I was young I wanted to assemble a karass with those who shared my world view. It was highly exclusionary since I was serious about avoiding any contact with those types who thought Thomas Kinkade was a great painter, watched daytime soap operas, voted Republican or used margarine. As I’ve gotten older I’m come to appreciate the unique frisson that can happen with people who are decidedly outside my comfort zone, especially the ones who just keep showing up in my life. That’s part of the role that family members can play.

Carolyn Myss emphatically insists that it is important to thank your enemies. “It’s not about them. It’s about you.” She makes the case that it is the people we consider most irritating and adversarial who are incredibly valuable to us. They hold up a mirror that our confreres cannot. And as discomforting as that mirror can be, it can be life changing. If we let ourselves take a look.

The makeup of my karass has changed significantly since my younger years. Some of my karassmates are deeply intelligent, gifted and warmhearted. But I have some adversaries in there too. A more useful way to frame their involvement in my inner life is to ask, What are they here to teach me? What am I here to teach them?

Ah, the mystery of it all.