9.10.2011

9/11 ANNIVERSARY: MAKING THE BED

Over the years, people have asked me for a copy of the column I wrote for House and Garden in 2001, the day after 9/11. (A mere decade ago, we didn't put our copy online.) I never had the heart to dig through boxes looking for a back issue. But as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 nears, I've had that terrible day constantly, vividly, on my mind.

My family and I lived in Pelham, New York, about a thirty-minute train ride from midtown Manhattan. Our small town lost many friends. My older son, Alex, could barely talk about it for days. Among the memories that will never leave me is that of a neighbor whose husband had not come home from work. He did not answer his phone. No one could give her any information about him. By nightfall, she was frantic. She got a friend to watch the children, grabbed her bicycle, and, crossing the Bronx on the highways, she pedaled down to the World Trade Center. She did not find her husband. I was thinking of her when I wrote this column, and I send it to you all again, now, in commemoration of what we lost on 9/11. And what we learned.

                                                        *

It is impossible to think about anything besides the devastation from the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. We all have images seared in our memories--the airplanes shearing through the steel corduroy of the World Trade Center; a man and a woman joining hands and jumping from the building; the high school student, unable to wrench himself from the window of his classroom, watching dozens of people fly through the air, crossing himself as each body sails past to the street below. I find myself choking back tears over the tiniest of details: the shoes, hundreds of empty shoes, strewn through the streets; the silver-framed photograph of a baby found amid the rubble; the little things brought from home to make the office a warmer, more companionable place to spend the days and evenings. All destroyed.

My 12-year-old, Theo, sat on the floor in my arms, watching the news coverage that afternoon when I finally got home, playing with blocks he hadn't glanced at in years, building towers with them, knocking them down with a model airplane, rebuilding the towers, knocking them down again, hardly conscious of what he was doing, over and over, sorting it out. After school the next day, having learned which classmates had lost mothers or fathers or both, he called me at the office in Times Square suggesting that I bring a parachute in from home (as if I have a stash in the mudroom) and keep it under my desk. How does anyone make sense of all this, much less help a child do it?

Of course, no one is thinking about chintz, or blueprints, or birdbaths this week. But then again, no one ever thought those sorts of things were the most meaningful parts of our houses and gardens. Everyone is thinking about home, about getting home, getting to our children, our parents, our sisters and brothers, our loved ones. And everyone is thinking about families that will never be the same, about rooms that will never ring with the same laughter, about smiles that will never again be seen around the table. We take so many things for granted--as we should, to go on with our lives. We don't ever stop to wonder, standing at the kitchen door, if the kiss goodbye, before leaving to take the train into the city to work, will be the last kiss. How could we ask such questions and get through the days?

Still, we put together a magazine that is about decorating, and gardening, and entertaining; we will be sending our readers information about holiday style and sharing our shopping lists. At first it seems unreasonably trivial to have to focus on these things again. And then, on reflection, you realize that that's really all there is, the little things of everyday life, the mundane details that pile up into whatever larger sense we make of our days. Anyone who has suffered any loss at all--and we all have--would give up so much just to go back to the way things were before the murderous morning. Really, what was more important than sitting at the dinner table with people you love? What was more precious than the sense of peace and quiet settling over the house as you tucked everyone in for the night? What was more satisfying than getting all the windows closed before the rain slashed down? What was lovelier than that neat stack of ironed shirts on the closet shelf, ready for the next day's work?

Theo, who loves to ask questions, particularly concerning the essential nature of chores, is often especially puzzled by the need to make the bed. "Why do you bother, Mom?" he'll say. "You're just going to mess it up again." I've tried lots of arguments, ranging from a rather haywire aesthetic theory of order, to the typical parental (and slightly desperate) bid for power: because I said so.

This morning, as I pulled the comforter back over the corners, and smoothed the pillows into shape and placed them across the top of the sheets, I felt it was all so simple and clear and necessary and important: because we can, we plant the flowers and wash the dishes and fold the linen and wax the floors and arrange things on the mantel and take care with the color of the curtains and re-cover the sofas--and Theo, we make the bed, just so we can mess it up, again and again and again. If we are so lucky. 

30 comments:

Monica said...

Thank you so much. This is beautiful.

Deborah A said...

So simple but so true, I have copied and pasted this little essay into mcro-soft word so I can print it out and read it from time to time. I need this reminder of what is truly important.
Its especially poignant at this time when people are at their wits end with the economy, with their political opinions running rampant.
We hear angry, frightening tones coming at us from every media center there is.
When we take a breath and read something like this beautiful heartfelt essay, we realize we are lucky to be here, alive, fighting the good fight of daily living.

Deborah A said...

This copying and pasting just gave me an idea for you Dominique (if possible) wouldn't it be great if you could publish a book that includes maybe not all, but maybe your favorite columns during you time at House and Garden?
I know I missed them so I would be very interested in a book containing as many possible. I'm sure that many avid readers of your columns would love to revisit them...anyway it just food for thought.
Have a safe, fun trip, I can't wait to see some new pictures.

Elizabeth said...

So beautiful and poignant.

Jenna said...

This brought a tear to my eye. Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece once again.

Anonymous said...

Deborah A, did you know Dominique has linked us to many of her H&G editorials? Not all of them, but a good many.

Here they are:

http://www.dominiquebrowning.com/articles.html

-Flo

Deborah A said...

Oh Flo, Thank you so much, you have made my day! I can't wait to start reading them.
Thanks again, Deborah

Frances Palmer said...

If we are so lucky.

Maureen Sullivan Stemberg, Interiors said...

Dominique,
Thank you! I, too lost many friends to 9/11.
Including a man I was with for a long time.

I am going to save this article... Always remember,
"If we are so lucky." Today, I feel blessed to be lucky.

Lost in Provence said...

I feel the tears in my throat but that aren't moving any further than that today. Thank you so much for this. I have felt lost in the midst of the anniversary coverage in the press. This helped so much.

Namaste.

Warren said...

Glad you put this up.

Judith Ross said...

Thank you so much.

PSING said...

simply thanks- psi

Ann said...

I read this ten years ago and again today, both times quietly weeping.

Yes, I'm a shelter mag addict, I love to follow design and enjoy making a beautiful if modest home for myself and visiting family and friends. As the daughter of a WASPy Virginia family of fading fortunes, I guess one could say it's in my DNA.

But this kind of writing, your writing, weaves such a rich tapestry of meaning from the threads of peace, family, home, community and beauty that is rare in the design world.

It is a deeper, wider articulation of the often unconscious and complex reasons for our love of designing, caring for and sustaining our homes and gardens. Since you left H&G this level of writing has not emerged elsewhere in the shelter mag world.

I am so grateful for your efforts here at Slow Love Life, and the ongoing expansion of the meaning of home to include the care and sustaining of our true home-Mother Earth.

Thank you.

KDF said...

Lovely. Lovely. Thank you for enabling us to read it "again and again and again."

profA said...

Thank you, Dominique, for re-publishing this eloquent editorial. It's helpful and captures the essential struggle that so many of us had of getting up, going on, doing again, making no sense whatsoever out of what happened on that terrible morning. So many souls, so many threads connect us.
My sister-in-law was on the first plane flown into the World Trade Center. It is no comfort to watch those films again and again. I have tried to protect myself all week from watching A. be flown into the tower and all bursting into flames. Your words are balm. She is at rest.
Linda B.

sheila said...

Thank you, wonderful. Here's my little story from the Southwest :http://tucsonwritereditor.com/2011/09/10/long-ago-and-far-away-sept-11-2001/

Jen (emsun.org) said...

Thank you for sharing. Sometimes we shouldn't do things just because we can, but sometimes we should.

mary said...

This is just as beautiful and true today as it was 10 years ago. As I reflect on the past 10 years, I am over come by grief for the continued loss of our young men and women and our illusion that we are able to be in control of the world. Thanks for this great post. Mary

Christa said...

Here's hoping we are so lucky again, and again, and again.

Thank you for reminding us again of how important the little things in our lives really are. In the end, they are what form the whole.

JoAnn Locktov said...

Thank you so much for rummaging through and finding this beautiful column, so that we could read it and remember and receive solace from your words.

Linda in AZ * said...

*** There's so much sadness and pain, and yet this DOES (or SHOULD) make us stop to truly rethink what WE'RE all doing with our lives, because we are blessed to still behere... and, the importance of having your priorities in the RIGHT/PROPER ORDER...

I thank you for sharing this... and I've been constantly praying that ALL of America gets through tomorrow SAFELY....

Blessings,
Linda in AZ *
bellesmom1234@comcast.net

Warren said...

Watching the families read the roll-call of those they lost, the grief falls gently like Seattle rain. Thousands of families trying to find the power to get up each day, reasons to make the bed. They are drawn to their loved ones names on the memorial -- blessing, touching, tracing the letters. So much loss -- so beautifully memorialized.

Thomas Smythe said...

I read this ten years ago and in an effort to share with my fans on facebook something that would put into context the importance of home on this day of remembrance I came here - to your blog, hoping to find this - I've shared it with them and they will share it with others. Thank you for posting it again. I miss your monthly letter and I miss H&G, but I have the Slow Love blog now and I'm glad for that.
Thanks Dominique. I hope we meet sometime soon so I can thank you in person - I think we have some friends in common. Love, Tommy Smythe

Dominique said...

Thank you so very much for your kind words, Tommy. I, too, miss HG, very much on my mind as I remember being with all my colleagues on September 11--how wonderful and strong everyone was. thanks for writing.

annie said...

Dominique,

This brought tears to my eyes...again. It made so much sense back then and again now. I came to your blog today because I knew I could count on you to have something I/we needed on this day. I no longer live in the New York area and sometimes I'm not sure people outside of NY and Washington understand. My daughter and I were supposed to attend a play with our NCL chapter tonight in Costa Mesa, CA. Even last summer when they announced we would be going on this date, my 16 year old thought that it was strange to plan something like this on this date. She asked if we could stay home and our family of four have dinner together tonight. I said yes, because we can. We were lucky.
Thank you.

Annie Diamond

Ellen said...

I didn't get to read this the first time around, but am very glad that Tommy sent his FB readers this direction. What you wrote really hits home today... we thank you for that.

Thea said...

I kinda miss Sept 10, 2001. i remember that being a nice day.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Sheryl

Cristina said...

deeply moving.