Angels in Shipwrecks - Kaitlin Murphy-Knudsen
Angels in Shipwrecks: Place, Politic and Spirit in Modern Life

Architects Among Us – What are you building?

Church in Brooklyn Heights, NYChicago BuildingsGrace Building, NYCChicago Tribune BuildingSpider Web with Dew Drops,
Wave Building, ChicagoTrump Tower, Chicago
For two months a spider has been trying to steal my car. Every night it builds, and with a few days of absence from me, it constructs whole cities of webs along the outside: from antenna to side mirror, side mirror to door. I walk into its spun doorways, tricked again by the thin webs and forced to part the strands like beaded string entryways of new-age shops.

What the spider builds by night, I destroy by day. My weapons are stacks of Tim Hortons napkins, which I swipe through the air broadly until I can open all four doors without eating the webs or the bugs caught inside.

I have a friend who, when she finds a spider in her home, gently scoops it up and sets it free. I’m not sure what she would do in this situation, but I lunged when I first spotted the spider during my last ritual of destruction at the gas station. I jumped back and forth behind my car, swatting my napkin-stack across the trunk while it dodged me in smart hops before escaping into the trunk.

Ugh! What kind of masochist spider is this, and how many times is it going to rebuild before giving up?

What kind of creature would start over time and time again—from scratch—in the face of threats that will never go away?

No answer from the guy in the next lane, who had stopped what he was doing and watching me, either puzzled or concerned about my mental health.

What does my nemesis spider say about us?

Last month, when watching television remembrances of 9-11 at the World Trade Center Memorial, I was moved by the choice of moving water to honor loss. It reflected back our ability to change, and the courage of so many just to continue moving after devastation—into new marriages and families, into entirely new, more constructive careers inspired by discoveries about what is most important, and more.

But when the camera panned upward, and I saw the shine of sunlight on the new glass of climbing towers around the site, something stung—something vulnerable advertised in the upward reaching of buildings toward the sky.

Of course we had to rebuild. But I hoped we weren’t the spider.

I like the metaphor that frames each life in terms of what we are building. Though it isn’t perfect (and makes me a terrorist to the spider), it reiterates that building is one of the most natural instincts we have, that we are most lost when we are idle, without a building in mind for some area of life.

I am in the middle of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, an epic story about the building of a Gothic cathedral in the twelfth century against tremendous natural, political and other odds. I am listening to the book on a series of CDs while I drive, and yesterday I nearly ran off the road when the author killed off a character I had assumed was crucial to the story.

How dare the author cut this character’s life short before he was finished building what he was in the story to build? The whole story would have to be different now, I thought, and I wasn’t sure how I could like the new one as much.

But I was committed, I decided, too deep into the story to drop it now. As I continued listening, other characters (who had all lost something big), voiced the same questions I’d asked about the spider—whether it was worth it to rebuild when they knew full well how fragile the results of their labor were, how easily it could be destroyed and how vulnerable it made them to pain they now knew first-hand was excruciating.

Raw Materials and Pressure

From my brother-in-law, an architect, recently I learned about a particular type of window he is using in a building project. The window contains a new, innovative but more expensive material that can withstand pressure better than most windows can. One company, which will charge less to install the windows, says it is not possible to use the stronger material in this type of design. Another company says of course it is possible, if the builder or contractor is willing to invest the resources necessary to install the stronger windows.

What do window innovations mean for us?

Have you cut any corners in investing resources you need for strength, whether physical, emotional or spiritual? Can you go back and replace weaker parts to make a relationship, your work, health, or state of mind stronger?  Or do you have to tear down the whole thing and start over?

Where have you stopped building entirely, neglecting structures you’re taking for granted but that need regular inspection and upkeep? Where have you given your architect role over to someone else?

You as Architect - What are you building?

When we feel uneasy about any area of our lives, the best place to get at it may be to think about buildings.

What are you building? A marriage? A new career, business or way of living?  Maybe it is a new level of fitness for mind, spirit or body. Or maybe you are a parent, co-creating with a child who is growing into his or her own architect.

For me this is about identifying the places that haven’t seen a new brick for a while, and taking the successes of creations we’re most proud of and applying them to other challenges.

If you have no idea what your buildings are, think about the character in Pillars of the Earth I mentioned earlier. What part of the story would have to be rewritten entirely should your part be removed?

Whatever your buildings are, no doubt each is a risk, with more do-overs, delays and wanton destruction of your hard work than you expected. No doubt you’ll feel like the spider more than once. You may even find yourself yelling at your Author when your story is suddenly recast without beloved characters or elements you’d deemed necessary. But with every vulnerable, hopeful brick you place, a nod to you today. It takes no small amount of courage to place it.

4 Comments to Architects Among Us – What are you building?:

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Pete on Wednesday, October 26, 2011 1:38 PM
Hi. I like the metaphor. Did you finish the book?
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Kaitlin on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 3:14 PM
Thanks Pete. I did finally finish it and you were right, it was a great book (though it was a long book to listen to on CD)! I spent a lot of time sitting in my car already having arrived at my destination but unable to stop listening or go inside.

Meredith on Sunday, November 27, 2011 10:25 AM
Love this--and loved that book! But read it so long ago, I am wondering which character dies off? If you told me I might not even remember-I read it when pregnant w/ Anna. Hence the name "Mason" at the top of our baby name list :)
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Kaitlin on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 8:35 PM
I never knew that's where Mason's name came from! I won't answer here just in case someone sees this and plans on reading it. Will email you.

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