I arrived for my assignment at the recommend desk a little out of sorts. Granted that this was not the right attitude for someone who was to spend the next two hours welcoming patrons to the temple, but my back hurt and my feet were sore. I was only half way through my Saturday shift, and I wondered if I were going to make it the rest of the way. Besides I could see through the glass entry doors that it was a nice day outside, and I was mindful of all the yard work at home I could be doing instead.
Saturdays are busy at the recommend desk. There are the occasional tourists who wander in wondering where and when the tours begin. Most are content to be redirected across the parking lot to the visitor’s center, but some think it is strange to be turned away from one of the most imposing buildings on the beltway here in Washington D.C. I am empathetic. After all, I have toured Norte Dame and even St. Peters when mass was being said. I have often wondered what might be going through these people’s minds as they encounter two or three brethren in white suits standing behind the reception desk. And what’s all this business about a recommend?
But weddings are the main reason for busy Saturdays. They always bring a certain amount of chaos to the foyer. Bridal parties arrive and mill around the recommend desk until all the members of their group arrive. There are always plenty of questions. Is there time to go to the cafeteria first? What should they do with their cameras and cell phones if they can’t take them inside the Temple? What time will they be finished? The mother of the bride arrives with the wedding dress and wants to know where to put it. Some members of the party are late and threaten to hold up the whole affair. In some cases these late arrivers are carrying the wedding rings, or the marriage license, or some other critical item. Their sense of anxiety rubs off on you.
But the greatest tension comes when one of a key person in the wedding party forgets his or her recommend. Not infrequently it is the mother of the bride. There is no alternative. She must wait in the foyer until a member of the Temple Presidency contacts her Stake President to verify her worthiness. She looks defeated. She has managed to remember the bride’s shoes but has forgotten her own recommend.
Outside on the immaculate grounds brides and grooms who had been married earlier in the day are having their pictures taken. There are proud (and probably relieved) mothers and fathers, brides’ maids in beautiful dresses, little boys in scaled-down tuxedos, and flower girls in white gloves. They follow the photographer around with his tripods and cameras as he looks for the most photogenic shot. It is a happy scene. People are laughing, interacting, and enjoying the day.
Ordinarily I would share in their joy, but on this day my black mood is exacerbated by the chaos. Children who have escaped their parent’s attention are coming in and out of the foyer either to get a drink of water or to see how many times they can trigger the sensor on the automatic sliding glass door opener. In concert with my sour mood, the skies outside darken. There is a storm brewing. With the first drops of rain, the wedding parties take refuge in the foyer. The noise level rises. It becomes crowded. It is difficult to distinguish who is coming and who is going, whose recommends I have checked and whose I haven’t. Outside the flag stands stiffly away from the flagpole in the wind. The plume of the water fountain is blowing sideways. The rain is torrential. Yet some of the children dash outside to feel the wind in their faces before returning to the safety of the foyer.
But as I sit back and watch this scene, I gradually see it on another level. These people have come here, sometimes from great distances, for a high and noble purpose. They are participating in one of the most sacred ordinances on earth. While it is somewhat chaotic, it is wonderful to see these beautiful families all together as everyone rallies around the newlyweds. There are two, three, and sometimes four generations represented in these wedding parties. The older generation is sitting quietly on the foyer couches, resting sore feet and bodies. The middle generations are visiting and trying to control the youngest. There are smiling faces everywhere. Who knows what it took for these people to be here this day. There are surely dozens of stories represented in front of the recommend desk. Young love. Excellence and achievement. Heartbreak and sorrow. Repentance and redemption. Triumph over adversity. Together we are all part of the great Mormon family with all the struggles and striving of any large family.
Outside the sky is brightening. One little boy has figured out how to trick the automatic door to stay open permanently. An hour ago this would have irked me. Now I’m amused. What a clever boy. He will probably be a Bishop some day. The rain ends. Slowly the lobby empties out as the wedding parties leave; they are off to their receptions. The little boy who tortured the front door leaves with them. The mother with the forgotten recommend has rejoined her party inside the Temple. My back still aches, but I notice it less. A feeling of peace and calm settles over me. Soon the foyer is empty. I am alone with my thoughts and good memories of time spent with good and faithful people. Strangely I wish they were all back again.