9/11/11 – Memory to Light

September 11, 2011

(Post 2 of 2 today. Please let your eyes wander from the end of this post to today’s first piece, from Laura Smith, a mom remembering 9/11/01 and every day since.)

# #

A masterpiece of moments came together in a swoop. They are coming together still today.

. . .


It’s early July. I have plans to spend the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in New York. My stories will be written by then. The circle that opened there in 2001 will find some bit closure there on September 11, 2011. My pilgrimage will culminate in glorious celebration of the city on the Wonder Walk, the Secret City’s annual 14-hour art and performance walk from the northern tip of Manhattan to the Brooklyn Bridge. There will be much to marvel at and much wonder to behold, in a city that is still healing from its loss.

I have plans to spend August writing in Santa Barbara. I will miss a big portion of my best friend’s pregnancy. But the project is necessary. It’s a healing and a calling. I’ll squeeze in as much time as possible to make up my absence when I get back, and before I go.

I have plans to spend my birthday with my boyfriend. He’s taking vacation from work to come visit for the week and make it special.


I get a call from a friend in Santa Barbara who says a mutual dear friend and mentor has died suddenly. I feel shocked and sad and unhinged. I feel out of control of my fate in the universe. I set about making it to his funeral, against all good judgment regarding time and distance. But I am resourceful. I have spent a life organizing on the fly like this. I can make it happen. I can begin my stay in Santa Barbara early.

I cancel everything.

In the call to cancel on my best friend, she asks, “When will you be back?” And I say, “I’m, I’m, I’m just not sure.” And she says, with some futility in her voice, “My baby shower is September 11.” My best friend tried for five years to get pregnant. Now, she is living her dream, due in November, with twins.

And I in my spin say, “September 11??” While I’m thinking, “Does she not know me??” And I say, “It’s the tenth anniversary!” And I can hear the loss in her silence, the shock in it, and I can feel the shock in my reply. I can feel the impossibility of it. My best friend. Living her dream. I am not there for it. This dream of my own–these stories that have been trying to get written, too intense to ignore, finally finding expression, ending on September 11 in New York, my dream against the grain of her dream, impossible fusion.

The spin

I tell her I have to go the next morning early. Which means no time to come over and say goodbye. She’ll understand. It’s a funeral. I have to go.

Inside a day and a half I have made all of the arrangements. They slid into place strangely easily. But by the time I finish making them, I am no less unhinged.
I call my friend, Lisa. “Can you help me?” I ask. “I have to talk this out, will you listen?” And Lisa agrees. She listens. And when I’ve spun my wheels to exhaustion, she quietly asks me, “Why did you come to me with this?” And I say, “Why?” And she says, “You know, we go to different people with our problems when we want to hear particular answers. What kind of answer are you looking for from me?” And I say, “Whatever there is for you to say.” And she proceeds–softly, with the precision of a friend whose love observes and waits for the right time to share–to put words to the moments over our years, that I have prioritized death over life, even when we were young and still figuring things out.

And I see all of a sudden that I have chosen death over life. I have chucked my plans that are full of life, full of people I love and who love me back, to be present at a funeral that, while very dear, is a two-hour memorial, for a friend who is gone.


I sit with that. I get it. It is part of the uneasiness I have been feeling in my spin. I just haven’t been able to grasp it.

And Lisa, as my friend for years and years, quietly testifies that it is not the first time. That this impulse in me has had impact on my relationships in the past. And I for the first time am seeing them in this context. Seeing my leaving in this light. Seeing my running toward loss against the presence of love, right here, right now.

I feel the gravity of that. I feel like heaps of shit. I have made a very big mistake. For decades. But for the first time in two days, I am calm.

I hang up with Lisa. I hold my head in my hands. I begin the effort of patching back together what I have undone.

. . .

The Dream

It’s August. I’m in Santa Barbara. I am writing a story a day to give grief its due. From August 11 to September 11, I am airing out grief, telling stories of trauma in my life that came before 9/11, and telling my stories of what I saw that day in New York.

I have come to believe, at the time I begin this project, that giving space to grief by telling its stories is the process of transformation. When we let grief move through us, and outside of us, we let ourselves become who we are meant to be, or who we have the opportunity to be, should we take it.

There is an end to this project, on September 11, 2011. What will the story be on that day? What is the takeaway experience of witnessing, allowing, feeling opening, healing collectively from loss we share in stories?

. . .


It’s September 11, 2011. Yesterday and the day before, I spend in my car, driving to the final chapter.

I arrive. I help set up tables in prep for a gathering. I spend the morning crying while listening to radio interviews and audio files played in honor of the tenth anniversary. I wipe my face of tears while watching videos that are traveling around the internet. I post a poem, remembering what has come and what has gone. And soon, I choose a time to let my crying cease, let the grief be fully felt, and then recede, let light come back into the day, as I get dressed for my best friend’s baby shower.

There are new twins being celebrated today, as we remember the Twin Towers that fell. There are new lives coming into focus today, as we remember the lives that extinguished ten years ago. There is love in a tribe today, collecting around parents and two little humans finding their way into the world, as our nation forms community in remembrance of whom we have lost.

There is life here. There is life in the pain. It’s why it hurts.

There is life in the grief, in astounding volume. There is life past it.

There is love here and love and love and love.

There is light here.


(Post 2 of 2 today. Please let your eyes wander from the end of this post to today’s first piece, from Laura Smith, a mom remembering 9/11/01 and every day since.)

. . . . . . . .

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

P.S. I miscalculated. There are, I discovered last night, 32 days between Aug 11 and Sept 11. Today is 31 days + 1. Thanks for reading all this way, or reading bits and pieces. Your presence has moved me into each day’s post.

Thanks for reading Day 31 + 1 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.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

dehelen September 12, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Pema, I am so happy that you made it to your friend’s baby shower. That you are choosing life over death now. That you wrote these memories into light. That you are moving into a new way of living where you will continue to choose love and life over loss and death, and that will be your new way of grieving. When I did est in the 80’s, I stood in the front of the room and was told that I had been carrying my father’s dead body around with me since I was 7. That it was time I let it go, so that I could remember his life, and my life with him, the joy I had with him when he was alive. It was true. That was what I “got” from est. One of the things anyway. Suddenly, my life was filled with memories of my Dad. Memories of my living Dad that I can call up any time. You helped me remember that today. Love, sdh


Dave September 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm

me, flaklempt


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