I’m sitting on the deck of a cabin next to Bear Lake, near the border of Utah and Idaho on Highway 89. It’s not a bad way to pass a Sunday morning: the air is cool, the sky is blue and painted with lazy, drifting clouds. Inside the cabin, my sister-in-law is making her signature blueberry pancakes, enough to feed three generations worth of descendants who have gathered to celebrate my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary.
My letter-writing proceeds in disjointed bursts. I am easily distracted by various children, the sons and daughters of my nieces and nephews, mostly—the great grandchildren here at this celebration of posterity. The door from the cabin swings open and (sometimes) shut, over and over, as the kids chase each other to and from and around and through the jungle gym here in the yard. I’m amazed that there is hardly any sign of the contention you might expect to see in a schoolyard—the fun is effortless; the laughter comes easily.
It’s remarkable to observe that these kids are such good friends, to see how they play for hours and hours as if they are Pals For Life. Of course, many of them are— first cousins who know each other well. Others, however, are new acquaintances, but still they demonstrate that mysterious blood-bond that somehow connects relatives who may see each other only briefly every few years or so. Put strangers together and it will take a while for children to tentatively set themselves to play. But bring together cousins for the first time and comfortable familiarity prevails almost immediately.
Susie arrives and I put down the computer. She holds in her tiny fist a wooden car. As she climbs up into my lap, it occurs to me that I only learned her name yesterday. I believe she is my nephew Randall’s daughter, but I am not certain. Her age? One, maybe? On Friday night my buddy was Ethan, a precocious two-year-old (is there any other kind?) who took me by the hand to show me around. He and I spent a happy half hour moving rocks from that pile over there to this pile over here. Ethan belongs to Rob, a nephew whom I haven’t seen since his wedding seven (or so) years ago.
Ethan and Susie and I are tied together by a seemingly flimsy thread: One is the grandchild of my wife’s sister, the other of her brother. And yet the tug of love and connection I feel for them is undeniable. How can that be? What is it about family ties that generates that sort of spontaneous closeness? Why is it that we can see some people at work or in the neighborhood almost every day and hardly know them, but when we see an uncle or a cousin, even for the first time, we become intimate almost instantaneously?
I think the prophet Malachi has part of the explanation. You’ll recall, perhaps, that Malachi talked of multi-generational bonds as being an essential component of God’s eternal plan. He said that one of the vital roles of Elijah the Prophet was to “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). Malachi was making reference to an ineffable pull that stirs within us, causing us to look back over generations and feel a bond with those who came before us and a yearning for our children and their children and their children, for generations to come.
After all, God wants it that way. The First Presidency has said that “the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children” and that “the divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave.” When we gather as family—at a cabin in the mountains or simply over a pot roast on a Sunday afternoon, we are doing the will of God. And when we put down the computer to play with a wooden car or move rocks from one pile to another, we are answering a call that comes from afar and resonates throughout the eternities.