What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.
I don't think there are words sufficient to describe our feelings when visiting the National September 11 Memorial in New York City and the Flight 93 National Memorial in western Pennsylvania. They just take your breath away, but in different ways. For being memorials to the people killed in the same day and events, they are as far apart in tenor as they are geography.
Ground Zero, New YorkThe outdoor 9/11 Memorial in NYC is shiny, with gleaming black marble and sparkling waterfalls. People speak in murmurs while the horns and sirens blare around you. I admit, it was hard to be there - it brought back to me so many memories of the day. To this day, I clearly can remember where I was, and what I was doing when the towers were hit, and I know it's something I will never forget. In this place, you can feel the magnitude of the loss. Even all these years later, I feel sad, but also angry and indignant. I want to shake my fist at the hijackers and say, "How DARE you?" In this area, you feel the gravity of it being the virtual burial ground for so many.
Yet as you stand in the shadow of the 1776-feet-tall "Freedom Tower," and the subway station that is being rebuilt, you also feel a sense of the resilience and even defiance that has defined the American spirit from it's infancy. The nearby tower seems to scream with the "Oh yeah? Well...<hand gesture given by NYC cabbies>!" tone that makes New York such a distinctive place.
We all know how many died that day, but seeing the names just continue on and on impresses the gravity of the attacks.
And this one just took my breath away. Logic says that out of that many people, at least some of the women killed had to have been pregnant. I don't think I ever realized that there really were unborn children lost as well.
Flight 93, Stoystown, PAIf New York's Memorial highlights the bustle of the big city, the Flight 93 Memorial celebrates America's rural communities. A long, winding mountain road from the main highway (US 30/Lincoln Highway) leads to the Visitor's Center, with several pull-offs along the way to orient you to the history and geography of where you are. As brash as New York is, Stoystown is gentle and calm.
Upon parking, it's a quarter-mile walk through a courtyard and then down past the actual crash site. There is a matte granite wall, complete with remembrance niches, that marks the edge of the field where Flight 93 came down, and a single boulder marks the point of impact. Forty granite panels (one for each victim) continue past the field, marking the flight path of the incoming aircraft.
And yet another child gone before he even took his first breath.
The flight path. Again, when standing here and looking at the horizon, even gray clouds give way to the memories and you feel the peace that enveloped the plane as the passengers took charge.
We hope that someday we will get to the Pentagon Memorial and back to NYC for the 9/11 Museum. In the meantime, we feel honored to have been able to pay our respects at these sites.
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