Memory to Light: 31 days of stories, August 11 to September 11, 2011

August 11, 2011


One night I stood at the window in a friend’s darkened bedroom. Lights and voices were ablaze past the wall in the living room. I looked into a blue night, engulfed by it, and held the phone to my ear. It was my father on the other end. He was proud.

I was alive. I had made it home in my new city. I was a wired tired after the day that had gone down. His voice was curious awe and anchored like a dispatcher’s, calling from time eternal. My dad, long-ago adventurer, had rooted himself to a spot, dispatched me into this world, and listened while I reported my view, this time from a New York City street corner while the World Trade Center burned.

He wanted to be where I was. Where the action was. Where history unfolded. To him, in his anchored life, I lived wishes.

I felt adult and child at once. On the phone with my father, I remembered the thoughts that had plagued me earlier that morning. I had been calculating how many people died from the first plane’s impact, more to the point, how many people would open their doors that night to a coroner, telling them their loved one was dead.

How many times had I remembered the coroner’s blond messy curls. The run in her ivory-colored stockings. The mute cop by her side. And the view into the living room, my tall dad in my mom’s teal robe–grabbed in haste on the way out of bed–hearing that his son was gone. My brother.

That may have been the day my anchor lifted, and my father’s dropped. That’s only a guess. I’ll let him tell his own story. In my story, it’s where the drift began, far far away to an island where I could hear but couldn’t speak. My internal world set up an ocean between it and the nearest dry land. Miles apart and the water wide, it would take a very long journey to return.

The idea

A story.
A day.
A story a day.
Mined from memory.
Framed by loss.
For the purpose of unearthing what’s in there.
Remembering what has been.
Honoring it if it is there to be honored.

The reason

We want to be seen. Don’t we? As humans in our experience? Acknowledged, understood. Is it possible that memories do too?

We are permeable. When we live with the presence of loss, it moves through us. It comes. It goes. When we do not let it go, we get trapped in it as it get trapped in us.

Writing is a way to let live the things that have gone numb in us. Rusted shut. I want to breathe into memories that are packed away, and let them live, as vital figures. Honor the time and presence they served in my life. I am whole for experiencing them. And hobbled for not sharing them. Here, I am setting them free.

A community

It is a simple project. I invite you to join me. I will be writing a story daily for thirty-one days. From August 11 to September 11, 2011, I’ll be writing a memory triggered by something that has gone away. Or someone I’ve lost. A feeling, a place. Letting it live in narrative. Letting my emotions live there too. Letting it come to life instead of quieting it because it hurts.

A trauma

I’m doing this because 9/11 presented our nation with so much trauma and grief at once, that in order to find a reference for understanding it, it shook loose my personal traumas that came before. You know when you hear a new musician, and you compare her to others in order to describe her style? It was like that. My mind went searching my history to understand how 3,000 people could die in the space of a morning, and two buildings could disappear. All it could find were feelings deserted by traumas long since buried, left in the past for more tenable promises in the future.

If this amplified trauma was the case in my life, mine, one person’s, what would become of the city of people who questioned their fate that day, counted their relationships among the living? And Washington DC’s? And the nation’s? What would become of us collectively if individually, our internal structures back flowed with fear and grief, wavered and swayed and created fear in place of meaning where there yet existed none in this new experience?

A remembrance

This month, ten years later, my stories will be in remembrance of the people lost on that day, and of those living whose losses ended a vitality they have yet to re-find. Mine included. What or whom will your stories remember? Release?

Grief is transformation

This exercise does not set out to be painful. Sometimes the exercise of grief is just a witnessing of what once was. A sound. A place. An idea. Once you give it witness you can let it go, transmute it into what it was meant to become. That said, we creatures of habit and lovers of love will find pain, usually a lot of it, in loss.

When we surrender to grief, we become what is meant for us to be on the other side of it. We become stronger, more supple individuals, in a stronger, more supple collective–family, community, neighborhood, nation.

Story is transformation

When we tell it, we release it. When we hear or read it, we move through a catharsis with the teller. In their change, we are changed.


My fear is this, and has been for 10 years: Who wants to hear about grief? Worse, who wants to mine for her own? Get close enough to his to feel it? We are a happy lot, posting and buying our fixes in the Twittermall, driving our cars to the next place. And then the next. Grief is allowed in our Western culture for a short, short time. But it lives on and on. If we bury it, grief gestates. It begins to rule our lives in sideways attempts at escaping. But if we air it out and let it move through us, it weaves into our tapestry like the rest of our experiences, broadening and softening our humanness.

I am putting my Pollyanna aside to witness. And to wonder aloud, “Who doesn’t feel loss? Who is foreign to the human experience?”

Story circle

I turned 40 last month. For my birthday I held a story circle. Each of us told a story, one that got triggered into memory by another teller’s story. We went in no order but a reactionary one…my story triggers your story which triggers Dave’s story. I didn’t have my story until almost the end when suddenly, the story before mine opened up an experience in me that was the perfect one for me to share that night. The evening was rich. We laughed. We went deep, following a few tellers into intimate experiences. Bounced with others on the surface. We marveled at the moments people shared and at the people themselves. We were moved by each other. Even changed.

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.

If the project swells, I’ll install Linky, so that we can house all of the stories right here on the daily post.

Join me

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.

Safe container

Just a note for the sake of tender hearts and shared experiences, comments on this blog project will be moderated. Its priority is to be a place to share, and to inspire writing through transformation, no matter how brief the piece. Any comments construed as negative or critical will be removed.

Love your neighbor.


Thanks for reading. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for passing the experience along to your friends. Thanks for opening up to the blossomy ride of a small seed in dark soil breaking into the light.


. . . . . . . .

Post script from the future:

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

{ 22 trackbacks }

Sweet Sixteen – Memory to Light Day 2
August 12, 2011 at 12:26 pm
Pieces of the Whole – Memory to Light, Day 3
August 13, 2011 at 6:12 pm
Twitted by PemaTeeter
August 15, 2011 at 10:49 am
Shared Grief – Memory to Light, Day 5
August 22, 2011 at 12:42 pm
Emptied Empire – Memory to Light, Day 6
August 22, 2011 at 12:43 pm
This Is Really Hard – Memory to Light, Day 8
August 22, 2011 at 12:44 pm
Patterns in Chaos – Memory to Light, Day 11 in pictures
August 22, 2011 at 12:45 pm
The Sound of Silence – Memory to Light, Day 10
August 22, 2011 at 12:47 pm
Something Is Happening Here – Memory to Light, Day 9
August 22, 2011 at 12:48 pm
Another Country – Memory to Light, Day 12
August 22, 2011 at 8:38 pm
Amazing things happen to me all the time | We Love Gratitude
August 24, 2011 at 3:37 am
Embodied: A search for healing – Memory to Light, Day 24
September 3, 2011 at 10:21 pm
A letter to innocence: Snapshot of a beginning at the eve of an end – Memory to Light, Day 27
September 6, 2011 at 6:18 pm
Remembrances | Life After Benjamin
September 6, 2011 at 9:15 pm
Quiet Is Alive Here – Memory to Light, Day 7
September 7, 2011 at 9:45 am
Horror as the Foreground to Wonder
September 7, 2011 at 4:42 pm
Voices in light – Memory to Light, Day 28
September 7, 2011 at 7:27 pm
Roving Robin Report – 09-11-11
September 11, 2011 at 2:13 am
Thank You – Memory to Light Post Script
September 22, 2011 at 4:24 pm
Story Is A Journey: 365 Days of Surrender
April 21, 2012 at 11:33 am
In Cake We Trust: Art Answers Prayer
September 11, 2012 at 1:12 pm
The Best Success
February 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

sas August 11, 2011 at 1:46 pm

this is wonderful xxx


Pema Teeter August 11, 2011 at 4:33 pm

thanks, Sarah. xo


Floyd August 11, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Wow! So so Inspiring. xo


Pema Teeter August 11, 2011 at 4:34 pm

thank you thank you. looking forward to your inspirations. xo


kari m. August 12, 2011 at 2:01 am

Thank you for this, Pema. I truly believe that memories want to be seen as well.


Nicole Lane August 12, 2011 at 8:45 am

Beautiful tapestry of an idea to unleash, honor and transform….gorgeous.


tanya August 12, 2011 at 8:57 am

Thank you, Pema. This is exactly what I need right now. So looking forward to 30 days of stories to break and fill my heart. xo


Pema Teeter August 13, 2011 at 6:36 pm



Anakha August 12, 2011 at 10:47 am

beautiful you…what a powerful elixir to bring what is hidden into expression. i have not been the same since 9/11…it opened pandora’s box of grief and trauma…mine…ours. i will follow you and learn how to write into the places that have a story…i am ready to write myself home to joy.


Pema Teeter August 13, 2011 at 6:35 pm

write, write, write, dear. write.


dehelen August 12, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Hi Pema, I wrote about Life and Death today on my blog and invited people to come check out your blog, included a link. Here’s a link to my blog:
Love, Sandra


Pema Teeter August 13, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Sandra, this is beautiful. Thank you for adding your experience. It is exactly what I hoped for in unfolding this project. So gorgeous.
Much love to you.


Bernie August 12, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Pem, you are a beautiful person. What an incredibly profound project.


Pema Teeter August 13, 2011 at 6:35 pm

Love you, Bern.


becky August 13, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Hey Heather, thanks for sharing these experiences. I was to young when David was taken to remember much. Thanks for allowing me the insight. Family is important.


Sam August 15, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Pema, I am awed and inspired by your words, heart, experiences and willingness to share in your grief. I, too, have been touched by grief and loss that at some moments thought unsurvivable. Yet, here I am. And here you are. I am gathering thoughts to put together. You are amazing and I honor your courage and talent.


Lauren August 18, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Thank you for your courage and vulnerability and hard-earned wisdom. And love.


Lynne August 19, 2011 at 6:48 pm

“When we surrender to grief, we become what is meant for us to be on the other side of it. ” Yes…I just might be able to wrap some deep-seeded pain around that idea. Thank you.

Have you seen this blog as well, on The Geography of Loss?


Pema September 8, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Thanks, Lynne. I love this.


Max Matthies August 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Just finished reading some of the “stories” … this is so lovely and real. Thank you for sharing, no matter what.



Jenn August 29, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Hey Pema~
Wow! I can’t believe it took me so long to read your work. Maybe I wasn’t ready until now. Your words shake me & move me to share my own feelings of life & death. Thank you for sharing your experience & for asking the rest of us to share ours as well. I also believe that working through grief is the way to a healthy life, hard as it is to face sometimes.
Here is a link to my blog
Wishing you the very best,


Pema September 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Jenn, thanks for sharing your blog. Beautiful and open.
Love you as ever.


Marianne September 7, 2011 at 12:51 am

I met Meg Worden in Portland recently and she suggested I come here and start reading the 31 stories. I’m so glad she did. Thank you.
Marianne recently posted..Where am I?My Profile


Pema September 8, 2011 at 2:51 pm

So happy you’re here. xo


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