Value – Memory to Light, Day 14

August 24, 2011

I was 18. I was wearing a periwinkle jersey T-shirt dress with a buttoned breast pocket. I couldn’t get my bra strap not to show. It was white, pilled, pedestrian, hand-me-down. I kept looking over my shoulder and pushing it under the dress.

Meanwhile, I was testifying against my mother in arbitration. It’s what parties in a dispute do when they want legal resolution without going to court. My family was at war over who would get what money from the insurance settlement from my brother’s death.

Outside in the waiting room were two families that used to be one, pretending as if the other wasn’t there. Inside, the arbitrator explained to me that in order to calculate the division of the settlement, he needed to compile the monetary value my brother added to the family, in housework, outside chores, “anything you can think of that delineates his value alive.” The arbitrator also needed to estimate the monetary value of the love David had had for our mother…who sat there at the conference table…as I answered her lawyer’s questions–with the above-thou attitude of a teenager forced to do something against her will–pushing my bra strap compulsively under my dress.


I have been thinking about value. And currency. And debt ceilings.

Say you’re saving money for retirement and the system goes bust. Money is not enough to sustain you. What can you live on besides money?

I watched my grandmother age. She sat alone in her apartment, that circulated with friends and neighbors, yes, but she lived solo for 20 years after her husband died. Our conversations on the phone were twenty-five percent about current events, twenty-five percent about planning the future and fifty percent about memories. She had a store of them. Each day she would take a trip in her mind. Today, Glacier National Park with the grandkids. Tomorrow, Niagra Falls with the Wilsons after our honeymoon. Next week, leaving the office inside a moment’s notice when Orin got called to the War, setting up temporary housing with milk crates and the other war wives who had taken the train to Seattle from San Diego for basic training. They were scrapping together every last minute of six weeks with their men, before service to country took them and turned them into the men they would become. Or wouldn’t.

What if currency were not something to sock away, or something to horde, not printed on paper or debited in digital? What if it were something to embody? Exercise, build up, share, employ? Today, tomorrow, on rainy days, retired days.

What are your currencies?

What do you value? Who are you for people? What if money fails?

What do you trade for the good of your family, community?


What do you depend on soulfully when the currency of cash loses its value?


. . . . . . . . . . .

(You can read all of the Memory to Light stories in order on the side bar ––>)

Thanks for reading Day 14 of “Memory to Light: 31 Days of Stories, August 11 – September 11, 2011.” It is an exercise in writing about loss, for the purpose of letting grief wake, live, and pass through the system. Grief is transformation. Story is transformation. Our world could use a some wakeful transformation right now. Take a peek at the introductory post for the full story of what we’re up to.

Join me

Consider this project an online story circle. Read a story that moves you. Write your own on your blog. Link it to the comments below, so we can read your piece. If you don’t have a blog, write your story in the comments.

Let your memories live. Let small corners of your grief breathe. Let your loss be swept into the collective experience of people sharing, witnessing, and letting be.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Irving Podolsky August 24, 2011 at 10:52 pm

What are my currencies? Is that another way of asking, what kind of friendships do I have? How deep are they? What is their value?

I have never been one to have many friends. And of the friendships I do have, I would not consider them life sustaining. As a matter of fact, if I moved tomorrow, I would not miss a single personal relationship I’ve made here in Los Angeles. I wish that weren’t so. I’ve always wanted a best friend outside my family.

A few years ago I started dropping marginal “friends.” The ones that always promise to get together and never follow through, or don’t always return calls, or don’t reciprocate dinner parties, or lunch dates. So after letting those one-way “friendships” go, I decided to test the remaining ones. I would ask a favor of them all – the same favor, something that would take a few minutes of their time and attention. It would be something they knew was important to me. It would be my first and only requested favor, and so I asked it. Out of twenty-three requests, five were fulfilled.

Now everyone of course had reasons why they couldn’t devote ten minutes to me at some point during the designated week. They had their lives to live and I was not part of it. I did not make it onto their priority list. And recognition this made me reevaluate just what friendship means to me.

First, certain people who I did NOT expect to respond to my request, DID. That was surprising. Secondly, a little more knowledge about my “friend’s” characters came into my world. More surprises there. Third, I had to sincerely change the dynamics of what I considered a friendship. A friendship now, is NO LONGER determined by what a person will do for ME, but by what I will do for someone else. If they are my friend, I will attend their plays, read their books, pick them up at the airport, feed their pets, call randomly to see how they are. And yes, pick up a lunch when I know they won’t return it. I do this, because I have decided I am THEIR friend, as opposed to them being MY friend. And those special friends, I can choose. And do.

That said, I have narrowed my circle of friends, knowing full well there are other people out there much closer to me than I realize. They are hidden friends, and some of them are strangers.

Expectations…they will kick you every time.

Irving Podolsky recently posted..Comment on WHEN A MAN’S DEPRESSED by Irving H. PodolskyMy Profile


ann schatz August 25, 2011 at 10:24 am

pema…your daily efforts are mesmerizing. the words come from the most remarkable place in your heart and they are a gift to all of us. these weeks reveal a story-teller who is stretching, growing, and seeking like never before. it is such a joy to take this ride with you. Ann


Erin August 25, 2011 at 11:22 am

I value time. I am wealthy with it. I like to spend it on knowing myself, getting deep and vulnerable with the human experience in all it’s detail. Especially the forbidden forces and the hedges of our lives. I don’t appreciate being busy, and I measure time by emotional ebb and flow between liminal moments. I value wise instincts and living creatively, freely, deeply.

When i am in my house, sometimes i sit down in different places depending on the light and the breeze and my mood and just feel fulfilled without having to do anything at all.

Except I’m pretty sure that those empty moments are actually what resting feels like in between spending my currencies in the lives of other people who aren’t wealthy with time to spend lavishly on cultivating instincts and insights and deep relationships with the intangible things.

When cash is strapped, I depend on my ability to scent my way toward meaning, which has always felt like a physical place to me.
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Dave August 26, 2011 at 12:15 am

“…he needed to compile the monetary value my brother added to the family, in housework, outside chores, ‘anything you can think of that delineates his value alive.’ The arbitrator also needed to estimate the monetary value of the love David had had for our mother…”

This might be the worst thing I’ve ever heard of.

Totally heartless.

I’m numbed by anger and grief and a general WTF


Garrett August 26, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Wonderful series, and I’m especially moved by this one, Pema. Your stories about losing your brother and the aftermath with your family are more heartrending with each incident. And your grandmother’s experience is telling. Her memories, what matters. And scrapping together time (as opposed to money) with her husband and the other women. Beautifully put. You draw on the fundamental financial uncertainty of us all, so to speak. It recalls for me, on a much lighter note, Gretchen’s encouragement to “spend out.” My currencies are time, presence, joy, empathy, attention, concern, memory, connection. I can’t be sure what I will have in the days to come. There must be a balance between planning ahead and living now, I’d be the last to say I’ve found it and I have to learn everything again every morning.
Garrett recently posted..NamasteMy Profile


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