A teenager still in high school. Coming home late from somewhere – I don’t remember where (or why my parents let me have the car). For some long-forgotten reason, I stopped and gazed at a starlit sky. It was the first time I remember being struck by the vastness of the night sky while at the same time knowing that I was somehow, in some mysterious way, connected to the world around me and that the connection extended to the universe.

That feeling and the fascination with connectedness has followed me through life. I hear it in what people say, I read it in the words they write. I see it in coffeeshops, in meetings and in conversations. There is a universal longing to belong. To each other and to our chosen “place”.

I don’t think it’s happenstance that the people in my life, over the years, have been “connected” in special ways. And I don’t think it’s happenstance that the Gunnison Valley is my chosen “place” for this time in my life. Valley-folk – full or part-time – have a strong connection to the beauty, the land and nature. And, for the most part, to each other.

We’re lucky when we stand in the circle of kinship, of connection. But not everyone does. So we’re even more fortunate that we have so many nonprofits and government agencies connecting to those who are on the fringes of the circle – or stand outside it. Those who are in need. Bringing them into the circle. Look at the Gunnison Country Food Pantry, Mentors, Six Points, Adaptive Sports, Living Journeys, Project Hope, the Center for Mental Health, GCSAPP, FAST, Early Childhood Council, GVH, the Health Coalition – and I bet you can name many more.

Think about the staff and board members of those agencies for a minute. If I were to name them all, you’d find a cadre of compassionate, loving, kind, gentle, wise people. People who understand that bringing those in need into a circle of caring is the best work they can do. Yes, they’re separate entities, yet arching over them is a sweep of compassion. A connection of love for those they serve.

Something I like to do in conversations with others is to ask what they’re reading. This summer, I’ve had many books recommended – and I want to pass along two titles to you – Tattoos on the Heart and Where the Crawdads Sing. You’ll find they are both about connection (and lack of). And, as long as I’m at it, I recommend an old favorite of mine by John Nichols, the Taos author, The Last Beautiful Days of Autumn.  That one changed my life. Ask me sometime, and I’ll tell you the story about why it had such an impact on me.

As the autumn skies approach and the green landscape morphs to gold, take the time to revel in the beauty of this “place” we’ve chosen. If you don’t already volunteer for a nonprofit – go ahead, pick one. Give of yourself to keep the circle strong. As the Tattoos author, Greg Boyle, likes to say, “The measure of our compassion is … in the willingness to see ourselves in kinship.” He also says, “No kinship, no justice; no kinship, no peace”. Think about it and reach out.

Donors: Take a look at the plethora of nonprofits that need you – to make a gift, to volunteer to make a difference. You keep the Valley’s compassion strong.

Nonprofits: You each fill a need and you do it with caring and compassion – keep the love going.

Community: Think of the person with whom you most disagree. Reach out and meet them three times for coffee (even if you don’t want to). By the third time, you’ll find you have something in common and you’ll disagree less. Or even agree to disagree – respectfully. You’ll find kinship and recognize your own compassion.

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