Friday, September 11, 2009

I live in my promise

On September 11th, 2001, when all the world was burning down around me - or so it seemed - I was stunned into silence. Anyone who knows me knows how meaningful that is.

On September 12th, 2001, when all the world was stunned into silence around me - or I couldn't hear them - I was numbed to the point of inaction. Again, not my norm.

On September 13th, 2001, when all the world was grappling with what to do next - really, it was - I walked into my new home for the first time.

My husband was working from home. He wandered aimlessly from office to kitchen to nursery, where little ones breathed in and out, blissfully unaware that the world had been forever changed.

After a while, he returned to his desk and continued to numb his day away. As I watched, he began mindlessly flipping through neighobrhood listings, something real estate agents do all the time, just to waste time but still look busy and important. The phones were not ringing and, for once, we were thankful.

I had spent nearly the entire 'nap time' washing dishes, wiping, drying and then rewashing because of some invented flaw in the original cycle. Usually I tried to rest when the babies rested, but on that day, and for many days after, resting when so many others were restless with terror and tears seemed awful and unfeeling. I couldn't rest, so I just washed dishes.

As the babies were waking, my husband came to me with false enthusiasm, brimming with it rather garishly given the circumstances, and insisted we go see a house. He'd come across an oddball listing nearby and decided we needed to see it right away. We'd talked a little bit about buying a house after the twins were born, but we'd settled into a routine, albeit a chaotic one, and the issue had been back-burnered. Now, all of a sudden, it was the most important thing on my husband's agenda. He persisted. And I was too beaten down to refuse.

So we spent some time packing up the kids (when you have twins, age 1 and a 'big girl' age 3, getting to the front door requires packing) and made our way to the property just a few blocks away.

I think, my husband's initial idea was just to get out, to revive the family, wake us up and give us some sense of purpose, even if only for a few hours. But stepping out onto the sidewalk, being in the dead air of those silent days following the burning of our arrogance, was no comfort. Speaking, to fill the air with noise and nonsense, seemed irreverent. So we walked in silence.

When we got to the front of the house, we all looked up, as if called to the roof's peak by some herald, placed there to await our arrival. I won't blather on about the creepiness of the upside down cross that trims the front of the house, ending in the crux of the roof. But it was creepy. Years later, when we had the roof and trim re-done on the house, the 'capper' asked us if we wanted it removed. We both looked at each other and shook our heads 'no'. It belongs to the house, and to us, and to that moment when we first looked up.

We stepped in and breathed in the aura of someone else's home. It was plain, worn, a little odd in places, and old. For some reason, being inside seemed to captivate all of us. The twins - really my little girl, but the boy followed her everywhere - did everything they could to climb the stairs despite each step being about waist-high on their tiny, 13-month-old bodies. Lucy did what all little girls do in huge old houses - she pretended princess and bowed delicately to her imagined prince, before she escaped into a one-sided ballroom dance in the middle of the living room. I hemmed and fussed over the kitchen and Tony went straight to all the mechanicals. It really wasn't much of a house, all whitewashed and creaky.

When I looked out the dining room windows and noticed a faded red patio set and bushes practically encroaching on the spot where I stood inside, I called to my husband.

"Look," I told him, "you could probably make the house workable, but I don't want to be on top of my neighbors like that. I want space. We talked about this. I want a yard."

He smiled at me, a genuine smile. It took us both a second to enjoy it, because we were well into day three of having no ability whatsoever to express happiness.

"Come with me," he said gently. "You don't understand."

And he led me through the dining room, into the kitchen and out the back door.

"That is your yard," he motioned across the expanse I'd just frowned upon. "And so is this," and he swept his arm across the other side. "It's just what you've always wanted. I found it."
And I was overcome. The babies spilled out behind me and went about the business of claiming territory. There were roses and vines and trees and flowering plants and all sorts of pines and firs. This yard, this little secret space on this pained planet, was so full of love and life and beauty. I was overcome again.

Did you ever read 'The Secret Garden'? This was it, but somehow with an air of Gatsby too. It was serene and splendid, but alive and tingling. You could hear the tinkle of glasses from parties past and you could discern, barely, a perfume in the air, as if the remainder of a courtship still lingered among the flowers. You could feel the life in the garden and for the first time in days I - we all - felt alive again.

Needless to say, we were sold. It probably wouldn't have mattered what we had to do, we had to get it. If the garden hadn't done it (and it totally did) the fact that the small finial on the staircase leading up to the bedrooms came off in my hand - ala 'It's a Wonderful Life' - would have completely sealed the deal for me.

We went home awake, talking, jabbering really, because the rush of language that had been pent up for so many days came tripping out of each of us in gush and gab. Even the babies, I'm sure feeding off of our excitement, particpated in filling the walk home with the music of happiness and hope.

While my husband went about the business of completing forms and signing documents, I tended to the spiritual element of the home purchasing process. I closed my eyes, clasped my hands together, and promised. I promised God, of course, more out of practice than anything else, but with an element of urgency usually reserved for medical crises. But more importantly, I promised all those babies who lost their parents two days before, all the parents who lost their babies, all the weepers who posted futile notices and waited in vain, and the sweepers who tended the debris left behind by blameless and suited souls. I promised probably as deeply as I am able.
I promised I would live out loud, for all those whose lives had been muted. I would make that house a place where every day, the love we have for one another would be remembered and acknowledged, and spent generously, in case the day's events halted the next day's chance to do it again. I promised we would open that house to as many as would come, with all we could give, for as long as we could. I promised my babies would grow up in that house and, when they left it, it would be to change the world, even if only in the smallest ways, with their sunshine and shimmer. I promised I would tend that garden to the best of my ability to make sure that its secrets were kept and its magic was kept alive. I promised that if God saw fit to give me that house, that gift would be repayed in every way I could, with every breath I have, until I could pay no more.
Ironically, the day when I can pay no more may be coming sooner than I'd hoped. But for now, for as long as I can, I live in my promise.


  1. Your recollection of that days is exactly as I remember it. I often wonder why I wasn't scared at the time. I remember being so opposed to the notion that some terrorist could take my dreams away.