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March 13, 2006


I was waiting for the D train to take me up to Lehman College in the Bronx on Saturday evening, where I was going to see Sleeping Beauty. An older lady, voluble and friendly, came up to me because she saw me knitting a hat and wanted to talk about teaching her grandson to knit. At first I froze, waiting for the inevitable "I'll bet you find that relaxing." But that never came, she knitted herself and we got to talking. She was with three companions, two of whom were French including a middle-aged French-Arab woman. I started talking French with them to try and be welcoming. The Arab lady was very nice - from Narbonne, near Montpellier. I took out a lace project, that impressed her far more than the simple hat. "C'est un châle." I said, doing my best in my rusty French.

They were going to the same stop as me, but not to Lehman for the show so to make small talk I asked the American lady where they are going. "A human rights meeting." She sounded embarrassed so I apologized and explained I only meant generally. "You don't frighten easily?" she asked. I said no, but I was bracing myself. The Arab (more accurately Moroccan) woman, Aicha, is the mother of Zacarias Moussaoui. The American woman I was talking to lost her son in the Towers. Through his trial, they have become close.

I had no idea what to say. By this point Aicha had moved to the other side of the subway car to speak with another of her companions and I was talking only to this woman (she's not a public figure, so I don't wish to identify her.) I asked about her son, but I knew his story even before she told it. I had heard it a hundred times. Cantor Fitzgerald, this time in the IT department. Memories of the days immediately after, the color xeroxes of the missing lining the walls of the subway stations, the candles in Union Square Park, the raw shock and pain of the bereaved, the acrid stink in the air came back. I told her I was impressed with her.

Going out of the train, my friend Mary caught me - we were going to the performance together, but had to travel separately and didn't know we were on the same train. I said my goodbyes to the ladies; we went down the hill towards Lehman and they went up to their meeting.

There's no moral to this story. 3000 people are still dead. We're trying to kill another man, and he's no innocent but it hasn't yet been proven that he had anything to do with it. And someone who lost her son finds the way she can make sense of it is to work for mercy.

Postscript 3/15/06: Greetings to those stopping in from AMERICABlog, Buzzflash or Metafilter. Thanks for stopping by, please feel free to look around. I don't blog often on politics, when I do it's in the category "current events" and you can find a category list on the home page. More about my blog here. Y'all come back.

Update: It's a shock to see how many people have read this. So far, the most interesting comments have come from Metafilter, where I have been called a liar, moralizing and female. I can only categorically refute the third.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at March 13, 2006 11:06 PM

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Tracked on March 15, 2006 12:23 PM


Thank you for the story. There is a wonderful saying I learnt here in Philly. I think it's a Quaker motto:

There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.

Posted by: GWTW at March 14, 2006 12:07 PM

A beautiful heart string tugging tale. Mom's are moms, they are part of the innocents that are always hurt by things like this. They too are the victims wether they are american arab or what ever nationality or race...

Thank you for your grace and for your wonderful tale.

Posted by: Ken Jackson CPO USN Ret. at March 14, 2006 8:03 PM

It is interesting to watch this government and this trial.
I can't figure out if they are trying to bail out because they don't have the goods to have Moussaoui get the death penalty and they will look foolish to the world or, as the email said the defense can drive a truck through the evidence.
The incompetence goes on and on.

Posted by: diane at March 14, 2006 8:03 PM

Wow, Thanks for telling us this story.

Posted by: chowder at March 14, 2006 8:15 PM

Hey Leigh! This is Eric-- former room-mate of Andrea and Ms. Dirty Martini, designer of the Dance As Ever logo that I see you're still using! Came across this entry via Americablog. Crazy story. Maybe we should send a leather-clad Arnold Schwarzenegger back in time to teach a young Ms. Moussaoui the basics of birth control. Next time you're in SF, let me know, I'm living here. Won't be able to recommend any gay bars, though Daddy's has $2 beers on Tuesdays...

Posted by: Eric at March 14, 2006 8:15 PM

"There is no way to peace. Peace is the way." - Mahatma Gandhi

Posted by: Milo Johnson at March 14, 2006 9:39 PM

Wow...has ever a little vignette been so heartwarming & chilling simultaneously....?

Posted by: Crab at March 15, 2006 1:44 AM

Incredible story, very movingly told. Now with the witness tampering how can one not feel that Zacarias Moussaoui might be being railroaded? And what of the hundreds who have been held for years on offshore bases...

Posted by: CincyGuy at March 15, 2006 5:16 AM

Eric - I would be happy to, but I have absolutely no contact information for you!

In all honesty, I probably wouldn't be able to recommend any gay bars either, though Mecca was decent. Best place I went was The Orbit Room.

Posted by: Leigh Witchel at March 15, 2006 7:18 AM

Nice story.......any verification?!?
What would you suggest we do with immigrants in our nation who do not like anything about being American?!? Who hate all things Anglo?!?
Furthermore, what would your "proper" reaction be to the killing of 3000 Americans?!? Maybe send the Peace Corps to invite them to the Whitehouse for dinner?!?
This nation will wake up to the fact that two billion of this world’s people hate us and will not relax until we are wiped off the face of the earth........only problem is that it will be too late by then!!!!!!

Posted by: Sammy at March 15, 2006 10:44 AM

Sammy -

This is my blog. You're welcome to post here no matter your opinion, but I have edited your comment out of being in all caps because I find it unreadable. I did not change the content otherwise. I ask that you not repeat that.

I can't verify the story except to say that it happened to me. You're welcome to not believe it.

Posted by: Leigh Witchel at March 15, 2006 11:03 AM


Posted by: QuentinCompson at March 15, 2006 2:20 PM

Saddam Hussein testified Wednesday for the first time at his trial, calling on Iraqis to stop a bloody wave of sectarian violence and instead fight American troops, prompting the chief judge to close the courtroom after declaring Saddam was making political speeches.

Wednesday's session was to be the first chance for the judge and prosecutors to directly question him on charges of killing 148 Shiites and imprisoning and torturing others during a 1982 crackdown against the Shiite town of Dujail.

Now what should be bothering people is the US currently has 490 detainees being hend at Guantánamo Bay, CUBA (with not charges or legal counsel). The US and Allied forces have killed as many or more Iraq civilians than Saddam ever did, somewhere between 33,000 and 37,000 civilian causalities to date. The US continues to move detainees to "black sites" around the globe for interrogation purposes yet not one single senior Amercian official, President Bush or Donald Rumsfeld are being charged for any war crimes.

Posted by: Matt at March 15, 2006 3:25 PM

There is no way to peace; peace is the way. - A.J. Muste (1885-1967)

Posted by: Earthling at March 15, 2006 3:54 PM

It only goes to show that one never knows who one might meet in the New York subway.

What a fascinating and wonderfully human story. As Ken, retired from the Navy, commented earlier, mothers are mothers - and isn't that a GOOD thing!

Thanks, Leigh. Your blog is always eclectically interesting!

Posted by: Grace at March 15, 2006 10:46 PM

He is a patsy,set up as usual,its obvious the whole 911 scene was an inside job,how can buildings fall like that unless they are demolished.What about wtc 7 it fell same way,no plane at pentagon etc etc,poor guy he must have been brainwashed,railroaded,its a all a game and now look whats happening the witnesses are being guided by the government,,,,collusion oh yes...
Look up Scholars for Truth,google it to find out whats going on...if you dare face what your gov't is up to..

Posted by: jeremy at March 16, 2006 4:52 PM

I would like to point out that Friday Cat Blogging is far less controversial and nobody has ever questioned the Kitty's authenticity!

Posted by: Steve at March 16, 2006 10:20 PM

I remember the days we worked together post 9/11. You were wonderful bringing us all together...

Posted by: Christina at March 17, 2006 8:46 PM

A friend of mine sent me a link to this post. Thank you for sharing the incident. It takes only the smallest image of grace to remind us that it shines more brightly than even the largest acts of hatred.

Posted by: A Lee at March 18, 2006 1:46 AM

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