George turned 13 today.
If you think about the spaces that had the strongest impact on your life, the places that shaped who you became? I bet you’ll try to think of the spaces that filled you with a sense of awe. You’ll try to think of the spaces that made you feel small in the world, and you’ll imagine yourself looking upwards in apt wonder, becoming what you can be in that instant. But, that’s not the place that forms you. The real place that forms your character is more subtle. It happens in an instant, in a lobby, or waiting room, or in the space between your car and the front door. Your life can change in the breath of a single sentence. And you don’t need a grand volume to contemplate the ramifications of that change when it happens. You wouldn’t even notice it anyway. For me at least, I wouldn’t. I don’t like to think of the space that changed me actually. They tend to be sterile environments, and the circumstances are often dire. Changing your life is going to be a visceral experience.
My life changed in waiting rooms, or while holding a phone and leaning against the kitchen wall. My life changed minutes before walking out onto the front porch to hold the railing and try to catch my breath. My life changed when I began to understand the path I would follow, when I stopped, and rubbed my eyes, and welled up, and gripped the edge of something, and exhaled, and mouthed the word “shit” 4 times in a row.
It didn’t change within architecture.
In 2000, probably sometime in February, my life changed in a kitchen in a 1910 bungalow in Kansas, on the phone with a genetics counselor who had enough compassion to know she should call me in person to help me understand the results of my son’s MRI. Because the text on the blurry fax I had in my hand was a physical map for a new path. And, I was in a kitchen, and I was in a house, and I didn’t care about the physical forms of the space, or the order, or the symbolism, or the patterns, or the texture on the plaster walls. I just needed to step outside and take a breath, and look at the sky for a minute.
The change came from a 3 month old who didn’t need a space to define him or inspire him. He needed to breathe in and out. And, he needed me to take a breath, and take a minute to re-calibrate my life, so I could come back and live it with him.
And I know that architecture isn’t the thing at all, it’s just the thing that the real things take place in. But, George turned 13 today. And when he was 1, they told me he might only live to be 10. And I’m sure I was sitting in some drab carefully designed waiting room somewhere when they told me that, and I’m sure I needed to step out for minute to catch my breath, and I doubt if the space helped me, or hurt me at all, because the change wasn’t a physical thing at all.
So today. I stood in a room, in a house, and I leaned over George, and kissed him on the forehead. I wished him a happy birthday, and he smiled.
And I changed, again.
Image is of Andrew Wyeth’s “Turkey Farm” - 1944, tempera on panel. Collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum.