Last week, our friendly UPS deliveryman set another large, heavy box on the tiled floor of our office. (It is the time of our business year for receiving deliveries, for purchasing what we hope to sell over the next few months, for investing somewhat blindly in our own ideas.) From this particular box we pulled a custom-made 10’x12′ canvas wall tent that would serve as shelter for brides at our wedding venue in the moments before their ceremonies, before they became married.
Tucked away in the trees and outfitted with a few chairs and a table and a mirror, this sturdy tent would replace its more flimsy, translucent predecessor. In my experience (I am a wedding designer– have I mentioned that?), those moments in the bridal tent before the ceremony can be the most fragile, most delicate of the entire day. I walk in — the guests all seated in the nearby meadow, the string trio already playing, the groom standing with sun in his eyes and the mountains at his back — to collect the bride for her walk down the aisle, and say as softly as possible, Are you ready? Sometimes she responds by popping up onto her feet, blinking her mascara-ed lashes and smiling. Sometimes she takes one last pull off of her flask of tequila, passes it to her maid of honor and smacks her bright red lips. Sometimes she pauses and looks at me with urgency, on the cusp of something great or vast, as if she would like me to answer the question for her. Often times I’ve become quite close to the bride over the course of planning her wedding, and in a way, during these last few seconds in the little tent before the ceremony, she seems to look at me as if I have an answer for her, as if (because I’ve had the answers for her all along about how many chairs we’ll need and how we might fold the napkins and when we should cut the cake) I am able to say just the thing she needs to hear in that moment. Naturally, I don’t have a clue. I am myself only a couple weeks from my third wedding anniversary, and although I am quite familiar with weddings, a marriage is still to me a mostly mysterious thing. But I smile, say something appropriately soothing or celebratory or encouraging, depending on the mood, shake out her train or rub away a smudge of makeup with my thumb, and send her down the aisle.
So when our new canvas wall tent arrived, I felt particularly relieved that these fragile pre-ceremony moments would now be safely contained by a stronger, more robust structure. A few of our handier guides sliced into a few Lodgepole pines, pulled measuring tapes, climbed up and down ladders, stretched canvas, and slowly brought the tent into being. As they worked, I walked around and around the tent, admiring it from each angle as it went up.
Mid-construction, one of the guides waived me over to one corner of the tent, where the branches of a Ponderosa nearly brushed up against the canvas, and pointed into the dark needles. I leaned my head in a little and saw a perfectly spun robin’s nest holding four blue eggs. As I leaned in closer, I could hear the mother in the branches above me, squawking, protesting my proximity to her babies. I stepped away.
The next day, after the power tools had been cleared, I walked up to the tent by myself to arrange a few chairs and mostly to marvel at it, all finished and expectant. The robin had settled herself back into her nest, camouflaging her soft brown plumage into the swirl of sticks and grasses, watching me with one eye and sitting entirely still. I did not want to push the metaphor, but I admit I did think it a rather perfect coincidence. I don’t mean to insinuate that brides are fragile little eggs in need of my motherly protection until they are ready to fly from the nest — not at all. (In fact, brides are often strong and radiating in that moment before their ceremonies.) I simply mean that I did relate to that bird’s nurturing impulse, to that desire to make a delicate, emotionally charged moment for another human being somewhat easier, cozier, safer.
I think we often do for others what we wish someone would do for us. Perhaps what we learn then is that we can do it for ourselves.