Because Pat Allen saved my life.

Let me explain: She is my doctor. She had an instinct that something was wrong with me, and sent me out for tests that detected a fatal disease at an early, curable stage. But more important, she taught me that if you aren’t moving forward, you are not standing still, as you might think, but in fact, you are drifting backwards. She didn’t say this, exactly, but she demonstrated it, in the way her practice works, and in the way she moves through the world. I’ve written a great deal about Dr. Pat in my new book, Slow Love, which I have also dedicated to her and to my agent, Amanda Urban, who changed my life.

I want to share what Dr. Pat told me when I first saw her, and explain how I finally understand what it means, in the deepest way. Dr. Pat said that she grew up in a tiny Kentucky town, the kind with a one-room schoolhouse. Everyone watched out for their neighbors; you could say people knew too much about one another, but you could also say they knew the right amount, and could take care of each other. Dr. Pat said that when she became a doctor and opened her practice in a big city, she wanted to capture that feeling of a small town. So she is a scrupulous doctor, who follows her patients’ lives in great detail.

One day, as I was walking through the crowded streets of New York City, I realized that I wanted to replicate her attitude in my own life, no matter where I was or what I was doing. I wanted to behave as though I were living in a small town–no matter where I was. This radically altered my attitude. It meant that when I handed over my money for a MetroCard, I always smiled and said hello, and how are you, to the attendant–and I waited for the answer. It is odd to notice how often we don’t wait and listen to a reply. I began to shop only at small stores, and to learn some of the names of the owners of places I visited regularly. I started carving a virtual village out of a busy city, and it made it easier for me to be here–as I don’t live here all the time, I am always sort of in mild, jangled shock when I visit.

Mostly, having a village mind about my life has helped me slow down and pay attention to the daily details of interacting with people. It takes longer to get anything done, but it is well worth the effort. And to circle around to blogging: I finally understand that posting my thoughts, and getting responses, and thinking about those, and answering them, is itself a way of creating a virtual village life. Even if some of my new “friends” are anonymous, they are only so in name. The fact is that their personalities shine through their words.

Of course, Dr. Pat figured this out about blogging a while ago; so as usual, I’m like a little sister, tagging gratefully and happily along in her footsteps. Thanks again for a life-altering lesson, Dr. Pat!

Dominique Browning is a writer, editor and consultant in the newspaper and magazine fields. She has worked with and written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, O, the Oprah magazine, Departures, Food &Wine, Travel & Leisure, Body + Soul, Wired and On Topic, among others. She writes a monthly column about environmental issues for the Environmental  Defense Fund website. She blogs at SlowLoveLife.com.

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  • june keith February 8, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Oh you beautiful writer! Picked up “Love” at library book sale Saturday, read it, and lived since as a changed woman. Slow love is so true and pure. I think my happiness has a new layer of peace atop, like chopped nuts on a sundae. Thanks for all. June

    Reply
  • Mark March 25, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    I lost my 14 year old daughter and I have been having a rough time with it. I ready your article in BAVAAR and it was very touching.

    Reply
  • Howard Adamsky August 4, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Hi D:

    Loved your new book.

    My wife and I read it aloud to each other. (First time we ever did that.) She had cancer 2 years ago, is fine now and sends her regards.

    Quick question? Can you tell me what type of blogging software you used for the slow life website? It is stunning.

    All the best,

    Howard Adamsky

    Reply
  • Barbara S. Lesko May 19, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    First, I subscribed to House and Garden and always read your essay first, and was shocked and saddened when that lovely periodical was closed down. I just read in the NYTimes book review this weekend that you have a house in Rhode Island. I published a book of memoirs about a very special house in RI that we owned for 18 years–the lighthouse on Nayatt Pt., Barrington in Narragansett Bay, an historical house and a tower that was badly in need of restoration. Maintaining buildings, finding antique furnishings and equipment, the challenges of gardening on a wind-swept, salt-sprayed point of land (and having successes),the history of our historical property and the neighborhood are all covered. I would love to share this story with you and want to send you a copy as a gift if you would be interested and could give me a mailing address. You can find out more about me and the books I have published by going to Lighthouse Life Lesko. Thank you.

    Reply
  • Geri Brin May 16, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Hi Dominique,

    Dr. Pat told me about your book and I just blogged about it at blog.faboverfifty.com

    Geri Brin
    Founder
    FabOverFifty

    Reply
  • Beth Portnoi Shaw April 6, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Dominique: I feel so blessed to have Dr. Pat in my ear as well.
    I now know I am part of a bigger family, and the older wiser sister I always wish I had (and do, in Dr. Pat) now means I have many more sisters—and I love it!
    Thanks- I have been reading your work for years and look forward to many more.

    Reply
  • Pam Finsthwait Aldrich April 2, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    Hey Dominique, I happened to be reading the NYT magazine and saw your article…I related to many of your comments and it was so interesting to see where you are and who you have become. A long way from our middle school and high school days! I am glad you are still playing the piano and I hope this new stage of your life leaves you happy and fulfilled. You are lucky to have a doctor who wants to be a part of your life…That is the kind of support I have been looking for in a professional yet have been unable to find. I look forward to getting your book when it comes out. Best wishes to you Dominique. Pam

    Reply
  • Grey Lang April 1, 2010 at 7:48 am

    Dominique,

    Currently riding the New Haven line into Grand Central to work, as I do every morning.But instead of writing, as I typically do with this time, I read your NYTimes piece. Unstoppable involuntary tears! I chuckled, between wipes, at my own sensitivity and vulnerability. My tears were shocking – really..and those around me, no doubt are questioning my stability!

    Regardless, your voice captured so much beyond the loss of one’s “job”. Sorry for your loss, and losses; but then again maybe I am not. I am selfish, I suppose. If you were still coasting at H and G, I most likely would never have been graced with your brilliance.And frankly, YOU didn’t fail, you were meant for better things-

    Thank you,
    Grey Lang

    Reply
  • b. elliott March 29, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Dominique,
    I also loved your frighteningly honest piece in the New York Times magazine this past Sunday about the loss of identity and personal bearings that can come with the loss of a job. More women than ever now find themselves out of work and desperately afraid that they are over the hill with no way to provide for their futures. The fact that you are re-inventing yourself provides inspiration to all. Please, please continue to write for WVFC. We are a neighborhood in your new village.

    Reply
  • victoria thorne March 29, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Your words (blog, yesterday’s NYT article, this marvelous post) keep echoing through my head, and I am so thankful for them. You (and Dr. Pat) are right about the village mind. It’s a lifesaver. There are those of like mind out there, and the villages are safe harbor in a sometimes wild world. (I’ve found blogging to be the sweet answer to an important question I didn’t know how to ask.)

    Your work at House & Garden was a beacon; your new work is even more of the same.

    Thank you for giving voice to that which is troubling so many of us, *and* that which is saving us. The mild, jangled shock begins to give way to a slower pace of life that soothes and renews. How thrilled I am that you will be a voice for this change! How lucky we all are . . .

    Reply
  • Anna Zeusler March 29, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Oh dear! That part about not moving forward but drifting backwards really hit home! I was “laid off” last year, right after my 50th birthday. I still work my part-time dog walking business, which I love, but I’ve felt myself gradually disengage from the world w/out a “work community”. Little reminders like yours are like the angel sitting on my shoulder saying “step outside your comfort zone, however you can – volunteer, reconnect, engage!” Thanks for your post.
    AZ

    Reply
  • Pamela Lynn March 29, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Dominique, thank you for your wonderful post! And thank you to Pat Allen for being such an inspiration.

    This is great information that bloggers (everyone!) need to read about – how and why to create a Virtual Village.

    Although many bloggers are using social media to create their virtual village, the metaphor of small town life and interactions paints the picture beautifully!

    I am looking forward to reading you new book, Slow Love. When will it be released?

    Thanks again!

    Reply
  • jennifer March 29, 2010 at 7:57 am

    Thank you Dominique for your inspiring words. Dr Pat showed me your book in her office one day — i think you must have just been there. It had not yet been published. I cried just reading the dedication. Can’t wait to go to my local book store — small independent book store — to buy it. Thank you.
    and of course, to Dr. Pat. Forever in her dept.

    Reply