9/11: What We Lost, What We Learned

My friend and colleague, Dominique Browning wanted me to share her memories of 9/11 with the Care2 readers on this 10th anniversary. At the time, Dominique was the editor-in-chief of House and Garden magazine…

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. 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.

Making The Bed

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.

Interested in reading more by Dominique Browning? Dominique is the co-founder and lead blogger of the Moms Clean Air Force. Care2 will be sharing her posts, along with mine, and our fabulous team of bloggers starting next week! Dominique blogs at Slow Love Life and her book, Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas & Found Happiness just came out in paperback. Here’s my Care2 review of Slow Love.

Stay safe!

Photos used by permission: Dominique Browning

This post is part of a collective tribute for September 11th. Click here for more Care2 stories on 9/11.


Karin M.
Karin M.5 years ago


Abbe A.
Azaima A.5 years ago


Ameer T.
Ameer T.5 years ago

Someone should feel the pain and sorrows of the millions that died and are dying as a result of the Bush retributional wars. If i am sensitive to the pain of Americans (and i am) i should also be sensitive to the sufferings of millions who have lost their families, their children, their spouses, their homes and have had insult added to injury by having been called terrorists as well.

And without also being insensitive to the American tragedy, it is imprudent to assume that the event's tragedy was shared by the whole world. A vast population of the world has no access to cable TV and news channels (think Africa, Afghanistan, remote China and India and many more). Another vast number of people of this planet couldn't afford to care even if they wanted to because they had to fight for their very life for daily bread (think famine striken countries). So an American tragedy is not a global tragedy and it is insulting to assume so.

however it is also vain to assume that everyone in the world was touched by the American loss. But even assuming so, are Americans also touched by the loss of lives their wars have caused? could the Americans possibly console mothers who have lost their babies, daughters that have been raped, husband arrested in the middle of the night never to be seen again, mothers and wives raped and killed in front of children, and homes destroyed.

When America exhibits such lack of sympathy and empathy, why should it expect any itself?

Ameer T.
Ameer T.5 years ago

Whatever sympathy the rest of world may have had for America and its loss is probably lost (and certainly very overly compensated) by loss of millions of lives in the wake of 9/11 wars on all muslims. The American loss was paid for with the blood of innocent civilians. Most were children and women and some of those women were pregnant. children were not only killed, but raped and kidnapped to be sold as sex slaves in Europe and the US. the destruction that these wars caused not only to the lives of these people who may have had nothing to do with terrorists or weapons of mass destruction, but also to the resources of their countries, the infrastructure and a permanent psychological wound in the minds of children in the shape of fear that would never heal.

I am waiting for and working for the healing of the victims of 9/11. the true victims of which were the innocents over which war was imposed under false flags with no appologies, no remorse or pity or human compassion. they were not only bombed and lost their loved ones and their homes but were harrassed and permanently branded as terrorists and potential terrorists.

How and when does America expect them and certianly the rest of the world to heal. Should America appologise for bombing a country to the stone ages for reasons that were never true to begin with? i certainly think so. and it would be a starting point to their healing.

Susan T.
Susan T.5 years ago

end of my post -

Blowback is not an idle term, & ignorance of our govt's actions doesn't protect us.

Susan T.
Susan T.5 years ago

The author has beautifully expressed the grief & disorientation we all experienced on 9/11/01.

That said, this disturbed me "Still, we put together a magazine about decorating, & gardening, & entertaining; we will be sending our readers information about holiday style & 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...would give up so much just to go back to the way things were before the murderous morning."

Sorry but I would slit my wrists if that's all there really is. What about literature? Art? Music? Serving something larger than ourselves? We in the U.S. are (mostly) highly privileged; it's a luxury to worry about trivia.

I have the deepest sympathy for any who lost someone on that day - loss of a loved one to such a nightmare is a wound that never completely heals. But we can't put blinders on & go back to our little cloistered world. 9/11 is constantly used to bang the drum for the war machine. More Americans died in the unjustified Iraq war than on 9/11, & it's made us less safe. We need to examine our actions as a country & speak up strongly if we want a more peaceful world. Blowback is not an idle term, & ignorance of our govt's actions d

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers5 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Craig Zimmerman
Craig Zimmerman5 years ago

The damage done by our government in reaction to 9-11 was far worse than the event itself. I heard President Obama say on 9-11-2011 that the United States is a much stronger nation 10 years later. I disagree, America's strength has always been it's constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and since those freedoms have been compromised by an over-zealous national security apparatus, we are much weaker then we were before 9-11-2001.

Ameer T.
Ameer T.5 years ago

Sure Everyone is having fun now because the war is taking place elsewhere. some place far off from where the cries of children and widowed women, the shrieks of raped girls, the wimpers of kidnapped orphaned children to be sold as sex slaves in the meat markets of Europe and US and indeed the world dont reach your ears.

The bombs are raging on over some desert dwelling, barefoot, naked, illiterate, half civilised people. All the better if the war is far off and not near home. At least your family, loved ones & your children and pets are safe.

So who cares right? even if you lose a bit of sleep over it when you get down to thinking sometime, you are reminded that these muslims are a plague and a threat to everything good and civilised. If left unchecked they may bring the world back to the dark ages. they are barbaric and so they should be killed without remorse, without pity, without consequence. Or perhaps you may think that the world is over populated and this killing will set the clock back a bit.

But Powers have risen and fallen throughout history. America has risen now and seems it is set to fall already with the crises it has run itself into. Consider that another nation rises to power, maybe even muslims and they find similar reasons such as yours to come and bomb you back to oblivion and similarly be deaf, dumb and blind to the pleas and cries of your loved ones. Is that the future you want to see for your children? because thats the standard you have

Ameer T.
Ameer T.5 years ago

True this was a devastating event. I won't implicate some particular group responsible for it either. But once let us take a moment to consider something that may be bigger and better than all of us. Americans and peoples from all nationalities died on that fateful day, so the grief should rightly be shared by the entire world and the loss should be considered global, not just American. But even if someone did not lose a friend or relative in the 9/11 attacks, we are all connected through the bond of humanity. And therefore there is where my appeal lies.

America started a war in three countries as a direct consequence of the 9/11 attacks. in ten years How many people do you think were bombed, attacked, arrested, shot, harrassed, murdered, raped, orphaned, widowed, threatened, robbed and killed? i dont think a true figure would ever be reached. but it would be safe to say they were in the millions.

They couldn't all be terrorists. thats common sense. But what they were and are, are our brethren humans. They feel pain as much as you, they love their families as much as you, they love liberty as much as you, they are in a sense just like you.

How many of them would need to continue to die as a consequence of war? how many children should continue to wait for their father or mother to come back, or widows for their spouses.

America has set a bad precedant when it was in power. Would you like some super power of the future to come bomb your house and family to oblivi