Weeping With the Enemy

Phyllis Rodriguez lost her son at the World Trade Center. And then she found the mother of Zacarias Moussaoui.

"Greg didn't have the easiest time growing up. At the end, he was a solid, centered person, but he had some rough times. And I wish I could have done better, understood him better, and been a better mother. I don't beat myself up that he was at the Trade Center on that day anymore, but I have asked myself, 'What did I do wrong as a mother so that his life followed the path it did and he ended up working there that day?' "

The Rodriguezes' mementos of Greg are subtle but omnipresent. On their right wrists, both Rodriguez and her husband wear silver bracelets engraved with Greg's name, a parting gift, of sorts, from Cantor Fitzgerald. Photos of Greg posing on a hiking trail or in a snowy forest are arranged in the study and on the refrigerators of both their White Plains home and their summer retreat.


See also:
Your Turn: Befriending a Terrorist's Mom
What would you do in Phyllis Rodriguez's shoes?

And in nearly equal number, there are pictures of Aïcha el-Wafi: one tacked to the refrigerator, a framed photo on a bookshelf, a snapshot of the two women together in New York that serves as the background to Rodriguez's computer screen.

The photos of Greg can be harder to look at for Phyllis Rodriguez. In contrast, the photos of el-Wafi are like a shield from grief, a reminder that Rodriguez has tried, in the name of her son, to always do better and to push the limits of grace and generosity.

"How do you accept death when you don't believe there's a heaven or an afterlife?" Rodriguez says. "It's a fact of life. It's an end. It's a loss. The only thing I feel I can do is to not succumb to the tragedy and define myself through it—always be the long-suffering mother. The loss will always be there. But I'm not miserable. As a matter of fact, the more good I can do that can come out of it, the better: by helping Aïcha, by speaking out for more understanding between people, by trying to understand what makes people who do extremist acts arrive at that point. What can we do to eliminate some of the conditions that make people so angry?"

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