Ask the Architect

I've been the wrong kind of busy


Q. Where have you been? I imagine you’re busy.

A. As I stood with a young man with four children, all under age 6, and he cried on my shoulder about how his home and his life had been ruined, I probably didn’t mean to compare my own loss, but I did. I didn’t lose more than a few roof shingles, being three blocks away from where the flooding stopped, but I told him about losing my mother on the night of the 6-inch snowfall just after the hurricane. I thought about seeing my younger sister, bundled in a blanket, in a wheelchair and under an umbrella in the driving sleet as they lowered our mother’s casket into the ground in that desolate Ohio cemetery. I leaned on both my brothers, thinking about the “war zone” I’d just come from back on Long Island.

The young man suddenly stopped crying and apologized. He told me something I take with me to each appointment as I crawl under people’s homes and across open floor beams. He looked at me and said, “I will put this all back, and find a way to get back to normal, but to lose your mother … none of this compares.” I appreciated his optimism about getting back to normal. I’ve been spending as much time as I’m able trying to get others back to normal.

Then my younger sister lost her six-year battle with ovarian cancer, and I found myself back at that northwest Ohio cemetery just three months later, feeling sullen at the loss of yet another precious loved one, this time standing in the snow with that relentless, biting wind freezing my tears. When I left Ohio, I knew we were in for a bad snowstorm as we drove back to New York. I drove through mounting snowfall, thinking about how I prepare clients for heavy drifts that wreak havoc on roofs, despite criticism from construction framers commenting (in my absence) on the over-designed roof rafters — you know, the ones they should install once and then never have to think about again, even in a bad blizzard. These are things I can do something about; trying to prevent the kind of hardship people don’t need to face when living our lives is more important than suffering through stressful problems with our homes.

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