From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

Our American Family

I had been in New York a month before the World Trade Center Towers came down. My family had gathered at a cemetery in Staten Island for the unveiling of my mother’s gravestone. The carved granite read “wife, mother, grandmother.” She was that, and she was aunt, sister-in-law and friend as well. Once, she was someone’s daughter, too. We had come to remember all that.

We looked around for small stones to put on the grave, as is the custom of our religion. I managed to unearth a variety of pebbles, which I held tightly in my hand. Other relatives of mine were buried in that cemetery, and I wanted to remember them, too, by laying memorial stones on their graves. I went from one marker to another in the family plot, laying a symbolic memory on each.

When I finished honoring my relatives, I realized that I had one stone left in my hand. Rather than toss it back on the ground, I looked around for a grave that had no stones, that could use an offering from a stranger. But every grave had at least one stone placed on it. So I put the stone I had been carrying in my purse and thought no more about it.

The Sunday after the terrorist attacks, I was on my way to New York again, to bring my father to see his sister in Brooklyn. I remembered my last trip to the cemetery. How many more graves there would be now. How many more stones would be needed.

When I returned home, I found the stone I had put in my purse. I took it outside and placed it respectfully in a protected spot in my garden where I could see it as I sat quietly in my back yard. There it would remind me of all the wives, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and friends who I never knew but grieved for all the same.

The stone was no longer the offering of a stranger. There are no strangers in this country anymore. We are an American family connected by ties of grief, memory and hope.

Ferida Wolff

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