I am not the type to splurge on myself, unless it involves snack food. When I get a few extra dollars, even as a personal gift, I'm hard-pressed to spend it on myself instead of on my children. I'm not even the type to splurge on home décor the whole family would benefit from—despite my desire for nicer things, we still have the same inexpensive bedding and eyesore of a sofa that we got shortly after our wedding ten years ago.
So it was quite unusual, in August 2001, when I set my heart on an expensive chair. We were browsing a furniture store, looking, for the umpteenth time, for a new sofa set. It was an armchair, instead, that caught my eye. The upholstery was tapestry, with sort of an old-world feel and a sleek curve near the bottom, where dark wooden legs peeked out. The chair came with a matching ottoman and a price tag, even on sale, that was more appropriate for an entire sofa than for a solitary chair that didn't complement any of our other furniture or any sofa sets we were considering. I felt that I had to have it.
I didn't need the chair at all. Or any chair, really. But it seemed this chair was meant to be mine. It was the chair where I would read to my children, and where I would sit, as they grew, while they perched on the ottoman to tell me about their days. It was the chair where I would read, pray, and dream, and where, I hoped, I would write great stories of my own. I would inhabit this chair completely. And I could not imagine any other piece of furniture I owned being called into such service.
I hinted to my husband several times over the next few weeks, particularly with my own birthday and our tenth anniversary coming up. Not surprisingly, he thought it was wishful thinking, not a serious plea for an expensive chair. Even I tried to tell myself it was just daydreaming. I am usually suspicious of any notion that material things will bring me happiness. But this chair, I was somehow convinced, could enrich my life. The kind of person I wanted to be would have a chair like this. Finally, I told my husband point blank, "I really want that chair. Really. And the sale goes off in a few days."
My husband has always been more interested in indulging me than I have been in indulging myself, so he kindly agreed we could get it. Even though the sudden need to replace his car meant that we couldn't also get the sofa set we sorely needed.
We got the chair in September, a few days before our September 14th anniversary, and set it up in our bedroom, where I felt it belonged. That very day, I read to my 3-year-old in it. I nursed my baby in it. I read in it, prayed in it, and even managed to write a bit in it. I couldn't believe my good fortune. I hadn't dared to believe the chair would really be all I'd told myself it could be, but so far things were definitely shaping up that way. Somehow it made life in general seem more promising.
I sat in the chair and imagined forming wonderful memories in it, the way some families do around their heirloom dining tables. Maybe the fog of early parenthood would lift, I'd find a way to declutter my house and declutter my mind, and things would start moving forward. Sure, it was just a chair, but it was a very good one—an indicator, it somehow seemed, of things falling into place, of good things to come.
Even the next morning, I was still feeling a bit giddy about it all. Light-hearted, hopeful, as if anything were possible. But that morning was September 11th.
I stayed in bed late that morning while my wonderful husband, who was home sick, got up with the kids and let me sleep in a bit. I reveled in the comfort of my bed, thinking pleasant thoughts. Then my husband called up the stairs, "There's some crazy stuff happening." He came up to the bedroom and told me about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"The Pentagon?" I was dumbfounded. For some reason—perhaps my unfamiliarity with New York—the World Trade Center disasters didn't sink in as much until I saw the news footage. But if the center of our defenses had been hit, I knew something profound and frightening was happening.
So that was that. The giddiness was gone, the hope impotent. I didn't even want to look at the chair for a while. It sat unused for weeks, a victim of poor timing.
Over the months the chair became just another part of the room, a place to set down books or my husband's work stuff, a place to toss clothes or towels on the way by. I still couldn't bring myself to sit in it. New Year's Day came and went, and I still felt as far from a fresh start as I had the day the chair lost its magic.
Then one day, for some reason, I shared the tale of the chair with some online friends. "Go sit in that chair," they urged. "Take back the chair!" I started small. I cleared the chair off. One day I sat in it again to nurse my baby. Another day, I sat in it to do a lesson for the women's group at church. Soon, I started sitting in it more often, and reading to my children in it. I also started writing more.
There was no burst of giddiness this time, no sudden restoration of optimism. But day by day, as I used the chair, I found the promise still underneath, masked for a while but not faded. It is a good place to sit, a good place to pray, a good place to share with my children. And as I had envisioned, it is already accumulating memories—memories of shock and tears, certainly, but also of comfort, of laughter, of family, of growing faith and fresh starts. And always, always of hope.