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4:38 PM Sun, Nov. 18th

Get A Grip: Those of one's 'karass,' or extended family, play an important role for us

In "Cat's Cradle" author Kurt Vonnegut (a wise and witty man) observes that people have families beyond their control.

He is not talking about the traditional family that one is born into - mother, father, aunt, uncle, etc.

- he's talking about the family whose members are not known to any geneologist.

He calls it a 'karass.' Members of one's karass are those with whom one shares an intertwined destiny.

They may or may not be friends but are bound together nonetheless.

Vonnegut describes it in terms of the fictional religion of his protagonist:

"We Bonkononists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing.

Such a team is called a karass by Bokonon..."

'If you ever find you life tangled up with somebody else's life for no very logical reasons,' writes Bokonon, 'that person may be a member of your karass.' ...a karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial and class boundaries.

It is as free-form as an amoeba."

And so it is.

I spent last weekend with some members of my karass.

We were in Kentucky for a wedding.

A last minute decision to fly out for the weekend landed me in Louisville on a hot, muggy Friday night.

The tangled web of friends and acquaintences I saw there can be traced to locations including Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Oregon.

The bride and groom had decided on an untraditional ceremony being as they are untraditional people.

And so the wedding was held in a garden behind a farmhouse.

The bride and groom and an officiant of an affiliation unknown to me stood in the yard.

Around them, in ever widening concentric circles, like ripples in colorful pond, stood their family and friends.

True to form, the group of guests that I was a part of was late and rowdy.

We rushed to join the ceremony, already in progress.

Together we made up the outermost circle.

To my right was a friend of the most important type.

A friend like oxygen to me.

Critical.

To my left was a comfortable friend.

The type who, despite the passing of eight years without any comminication, was there and true and easy.

And all around the circle I saw people with whom my life's road has intersected.

Our degrees of intersection varied greatly, from imperciptile paths to roaring highways, yet they were all familiar.

Looking around, I felt the tug of the string that bound us to one another as I heard the officiant say these words from Black Elk (a man of profound wisdom):

"Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle.

The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round as a ball, and so are all the stars.

The wind, in its greatest power, whirls.

Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours.

The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle.

The moon does the same, and both are round.

Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were.

The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves."

Our little circle of people was small, in the scope of worldly things.

A tiny circle atop the circle of our massive spinning planet.

But for us, that circle was life.

In it were generations of family and wacky friends, all drawn together by the two people in the center.

There was great beauty in that circle.

After the ceremony the champagne flowed, toasts were given, jigs were danced and fireworks (legal in Kentucky) were set off.

A day later, in the Louisville airport, I ran into the bride and groom (they were practicing Italian in preparation for their honeymoon) and two other wedding guests (they were drinking bloody mary's and going through a glamour magazine featuring wedding gowns.

I smiled at them all thinking, these are my people.

My karass.

And, like any good circle, ours is open, flexible like an amoeba.

I can't wait to see who oozes in next.

There's plenty of room on the dance floor.