This article is an epilogue to a series discussing the ten-year anniversary of 9/11.
My story of 9/11 is much like many other peoples’: another story of people at work, punched in the stomach by horrible intent, scared but finding solidarity among their friends and colleagues.
But this story is one of separation.
Each of us, in our own way, has found a way to deal with the events of 9/11. Some mourned, some compartmentalized, some imbibed news stories until there were none left.
The Flight 93 Memorial was dedicated this past weekend. I visited it for the first time a couple of weeks ago after actively avoiding it all this time. It’s located 45 minutes from my house. I didn’t expect to be moved by it. I was one of the ones who compartmentalized.
I was reeling in disbelief on the day itself, and I will be forever connected to the people I spent the day with. And the stories I heard have been embossed on my brain; but I don’t seek the stories out. And I don’t relive the day. And I avoided images of New York without the towers, in the same way that dogs don’t look at mirrors. Admittedly, it’s gotten harder as the years go by.
But then there’s the memorial in Shanksville.
The makeshift memorial, temporarily in place until the final memorial is completed, is housed in a rusty steel building. Plastic outhouses are provided for the use of visitors. I walked around a bit inside. I didn’t read the story boards that were printed and laminated, leaning on easels and captioned in large, bold-face font with phrases like “Passenger Names” and “Let’s Roll”.
And I didn’t read about the last words many of them spoke to their loved ones, or about the sounds that were heard from the people working the tower that day.
I lingered at the building plans for the memorial, and noted a plea for money to complete it.
Strangely enough, I was moved by the things strangers had left. A Boy Scout jersey. A license plate. A fireman’s hat. A poem. Things from people near and far, wanting to connect with a group of courageous people who were lost to the field below. I brought my parents with me, and my father made a point of leaving a note. He also wanted to connect to them, or at least to their families.
We walked out along a roughly paved road to a plateau that overlooks the actual crash site. A chain-link fence was put up to keep people from wandering down there during construction. In the spaces of the fence people had tucked mainly American flags, and there are plaques that show exactly at what spot, in a field of grass, a plane had crashed and exploded on impact. I stared at the field and the surrounding sky, trying very hard not to imagine the people on that flight strategizing a plan from a place of desperation and confusion, knowing they had one, slim chance to live and then taking it. Calling their families. Praying with strangers. I tried very hard.
Today, I avoid pictures of New York that have the twin towers in them. Somewhere along the path of reality, I don’t know when, I managed to accept what happened and write it into the script of my life.
But on Sunday, I listened to relative after relative recite the names of their fallen loved ones. Mothers were missing. Sons, gone. Fathers who were never known by their children, erased from the earth. Sisters and brothers, children, cousins, nieces, nephews, lovers and dear friends: all torn from the lives of those who loved them. I cried after each reader told their personal story.
While I hadn’t separated the horrors of that day from my personal narrative, I have kept them at a distance, a little farther than an arm’s length away. But for the first time on Sunday, I was able to begin to let the horror of it completely in. It only took ten years.
To donate to the fund to complete the Flight 93 memorial, please visit honorflight93.org.
For more information about the memorial, go here: http://www.nps.gov/flni/index.htm
Ceil Kessler consults on business intelligence software, markets and publishes the magazine “Business Perks”, runs the Laurel Highlands Vegetarian Society, and heads a team in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s “Walk for a Cure” on September 17th. To join or donate to Team Kessler, go to the Teams page and find Team Kessler in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
Follow her on Twitter at @ceilck.