In 1993, while serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I listened to Sister Chieko Okazaki, then the first counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency of the Church, give a talk that she titled, “Cats Cradle of Kindness.” In this talk Sister Okazaki compared our lives and the way that we touch each other to the “Cats Cradle” patterns that many children create with a piece of string. After creating one such pattern for the audience to see she said said:
Do you see how complex and beautiful it is? Do you see how each part supports the other parts and is connected to them? You cannot pick one part out without destroying the whole pattern. It is the same with our lives. We meet many people. With some, the association lasts for years. With others, the association is very brief. But in either case, we can make the pattern a beautiful one by making our encounter a kindly one, filled with the desire to serve.
She then quoted a Gordon B Hinckley who gave the charge to:
Weave beautifully your small thread in the grand tapestry, the pattern for which was laid out for us by the God of heaven
Sister Okazaki then added that:
We may not know what contribution our small thread makes to the great tapestry. We may not understand the pattern that our lives make as they intersect, connect, separate, and intersect again, but God does.
I wish to write of several such threads that have been woven into my life. In late 2013, I became acquainted through the online LDS blogging and Facebook community with Alan “Rock” Waterman. We had several online discussions, shared some research, and became “Facebook Friends.” I did not always agree with Rock’s interpretation/ideas about of LDS history and doctrine, but I respected his thoughts, his thorough research, his ability to write and expound on his ideas.
Then, at the 2014 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium, Rock and I met in person. We got the chance to visit, to discuss some presentations, and to enjoy some time together. We then did what everyone does in this age of digital media and social networking, we took a picture and I posted it on Facebook. He’s the good looking one with long hair, I’m the one in the cool Signature Books t-shirt.
After I posted this picture on Facebook a longtime friend of mine, a fellow member of the Sigma Gamma Chi Fraternity, and a best man at my wedding replied to the picture with the comment that the man whom I knew as “Rock” was the same “Elder Waterman” who had some 30 plus years earlier baptized his family.
Let me take the string on my personal cats cradle back to the late 1970s/early 1980’s. A much younger Alan Waterman answered the call of Spencer W Kimball to become an LDS missionary. Among the families that he helped to teach and baptize were the Majors: Jack and Donna and their sons Gary and John.
The Majors later moved to Orem, Utah where they remained actively involved in the LDS Church. in 1991, John was called to serve as an LDS missionary in Oklahoma City. About six months after John started his mission, I too became a missionary for the LDS Church in Oklahoma City. When my mission concluded in late summer of 1994 I enrolled as a student at the Utah Valley State College. Who should I run into there but John Major. He saw me at an LDS Institute activity and recognized me from our mission days. We became friends. He took me under his wing, so to speak, and encouraged me to join the LDS fraternity of which he was a member. He introduced me to many of his friends and got me involved in the various Institute social activities.Through these associations I met, dated, and then married my wife of 19 years, Karen Smith. In this “cats cradle” of my life Rock’s string was tied to John’s, which was tied to Karen’s, which was tied to mine which was then, in a tender mercy of the Lord, tide back to Rock’s to complete the pattern. When we enlist to serve the Lord, we never can foresee the beautiful ways in which He will use us. Sister Okazaki concluded her talk by saying:
Our lives weave together in ways we cannot guess or plan. …
Brothers and sisters, we never know how far the effects of our service will reach. We can never afford to be cruel or indifferent or ungenerous, because we are all connected, even if it is in a pattern that only God sees. I am part of this pattern. (My Friend) is part of this pattern. You are part of this pattern. And the Savior is part of the pattern. In fact, I like to think that the Savior is the spaces in the pattern, for there would be no pattern at all without them.
May we all deal kindly with one another, seeking in our lives the blessing of the Apostle Paul, that our “hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love” (Col. 2:2).
When I look at my wife and our four children I am grateful that Elder Rock Waterman served a mission. I am grateful that when he went to the home of the Major’s that they listened to his message. I am grateful that John served a mission and then became my friend in college. I am grateful that these two wonderful men are my friends today and that our hearts continue to be “knit together in love”.
Let me restate what Sister Oakazaki said:
Do you see how each part (of the Cats Cradle) supports the other parts and is connected to them? You cannot pick one part out without destroying the whole pattern. It is the same with our lives.
I cannot pick Rock or John out of my Cats Cradle without destroying it. I am stronger because of them. Having our cats cradles full of connections makes us all stronger and removing any string makes us all weaker.