It was a day like any other, except that it began a story.
It was a day like any other, except that it set the world on its side.
It was a day like any other, until time stopped.
This was our day. And the week that followed. A September day in 2001.
Eleven days earlier we'd set sail from Barcelona, far from our American home, in the sunny Mediterranean where cares seem nonexistent. The next day we were due to arrive in Istanbul.
On this day of days, we were in Ephesus, amid ruins. I walked along a rag-stuffed wall of prayer, where Muslim wishes are indistinguishable from Christian ones, found a torn piece of paper and scribbled my own note, as I'd done at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, private yet with intent, joining the rag-prayer chorus of thousands pleading heavenward.
He wanted a rickshaw. A rickshaw. The market beckoned, tiled streets, lunch, men hawking pearls, and linens, and Turkish delights. But he wanted a rickshaw. A rickshaw. So off we went, by rickshaw, back to the port, to the ship, back to the ship, back to our stateroom, back to our stateroom, back to the TV, back to the TV, back to CNN, streaming live from New York, where what was thought to be a small plane had just hit the first tower.
How did we go back then, when everyone else was off, and gone, sunbathing, or shopping, or sightseeing?
But there we were. Watching. Maybe it was a small plane, strayed off course. Maybe.
The banks of the Bosphorus spread like open arms across two continents, the full embrace of east and west.
Is it Istanbul or Constantinople? Is it Istanbul or Constantinople? Silly song lyrics buzzed in my head.
It was September 12th. Twenty-four hours earlier we'd been aboard our floating home, in port in Ephesus, watching the unbelievable unfold live on CNN beamed by satellite to our stateroom.
We'd run up top to tell anyone we could who was swimming, or at the bars, those who hadn't gone in search of the perfect ruin, the perfect pearl, the perfect tablecloth, who'd stayed behind. We pondered the impact of what had happened an ocean away beyond the enormous loss of human life, which was heart-stopping. We didn't realize then we wouldn't be able to get home. Home.
I became, for the next several days, a woman of Istanbul.
Oversized floral headscarf, check. Oversized vanilla Escada raincoat, picked up for pennies years earlier in who-knows-what second-hand shop, check.
We lived nearly a week on the banks of the Bosphorus, looking out into a sea of possibilities, not all of them good.
By daylight I was in the Grand Bazaar, or in mosques. We sipped existential champagne by twilight in restaurants at the Ciragan Palace and watched ships gathering in the Bosphorus.
It wasn't real. It was a movie. Casablanca, perhaps. It couldn't be us, on the banks of reality, facing a horror a world away and an uncertain future, wondering if war was looming, or if it was all just a bad dream.
How had fate put us there, of all places, on the crossroads of east and west, a poignant reminder of the history of the world, a vivid realization that we all melted together?
I was among friends. I was one of them. I was one of us.
We knew we were the lucky ones. Hard as it was to be a world away, it was nothing compared to those whose lives had been extinguished or crumpled, friends and family members lost forever, hearts in ruins.
Could we get to England? We had friends there. Canada or Ireland perhaps? Some tried to fly to Paris, or Amsterdam, but those of us with onward reservations to the United States were unable to use any portion of our tickets to go anywhere. KLM tickets became meaningless, souvenirs, like the stateroom we'd left behind. I spent hours on the phone to Los Angeles looking for guidance for those of us stranded in the chaos. We were citizens of the world. We were citizens of Istanbul. Like rags stuffed in the wall, indistinguishable meeting of east and west, sending up a prayer for the world.
Ellis Island never looked so good to me.
I pondered how it looked to my ancestors.
Several days later we were airlifted directly from Istanbul's Ataturk Airport to JFK. The pilot quietly dipped his wings over Ground Zero, where the two fallen towers of the World Trade Center had stood a few days earlier as we gazed in silence, still smouldering, long mourning, a painful sigh, heaving heavenward.
There are countless stories of global citizens who were stranded worldwide when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center dropped to the earth on that September day. Ours is no more precious than anyone else's, except to us, but it is uniquely ours, permanently engraved in private memory, tucked in a wall with a ragged prayer.