Well, vacation is sadly over. As I reflect back on my vacation, unpacking the things I bought or flipping through pictures, I can honestly say it was a good trip. I’m glad to be home and in my own bed. However, I had a great time. You’ve read about some of my adventures this last week and I leave you with one final one…Our final stop…
Fifteen years ago on September 11, I was in my college art class working on something when a fellow student walked in and said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. It was early and at that point it only looked as if the plane crash was a fluke. When I got to the student union I watched in horror the things happening in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. I don’t remember what I wore that day or anything else but I do remember standing there watching the jumbo TV and thinking, “Oh my gosh. This can’t be happening.” For the rest of the day I watched the news, scanned the internet and prayed with friends. Life was never going to be the same.
On Saturday my parents and I stopped at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Stoystown, Pennsylvania, near Shanksville. I was a bit apprehensive about going to this. My sister, who had recently been there too, said I had go and my parents were adamant. But me, it’s far too real and tragic and I honestly didn’t want to go.
Remember, I’ve been to Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields where men fought and died where I now stood. I’ve stood in cemeteries, young and old. Those places are hallowed grounds and even though I feel something sacred in those places, for whatever reason Flight 93 site just affected me differently.
The Visitors Center and the remaining memorial is meant to replicate the final path the plane took. From below near the wall of names, the Visitors Center looks ominous, though not in a bad way. The walls start high and as they reach the hillside facing the crash site they fade into smaller walls, again recognizing the descent of the plane. Then you have the wall of names, white marble pillars, one for each passenger. And finally, the boulder – the final resting place of those passengers. The grassy field is even cut to match the path that starts at the Visitors Center. I’m not explaining it properly and one really needs to see it to understand but the whole image of all of this from down at the crash site, well, it caught my breath.
I was pretty much silent during that time in the Visitors Center and down at the crash site. I don’t know why this affected me so much and I can only imagine what visiting the 9/11 Memorial in NYC will do to me. The Visitors Center has recordings of the final calls made to loved ones by the passengers you can listen to. I skipped it as it was a bit too real. The moment I saw the wall of pictures, well, Mom was crying and I was about there myself.
I don’t know if visiting the Flight 93 memorial site made 9/11 a bit more real for me and if that’s why I had a hard time with it. Or if it’s because it is still so real. I mean, 15 years ago this happened. Granted it’s not that recent but it’s something that unlike the first Iraq war or the Berlin wall, I remember vividly. I remember the Berlin wall coming down and the first Iraq war but 9/11 is different.
My God moment from the entire vacation was at the Flight 93 memorial. God was there at Gettysburg and other places obviously. I blogged about some of that. But walking that path of the crash site, the original markers of where the FBI had roped off, I felt God. Perhaps that is what I felt? Perhaps that’s why I felt the way I did that afternoon, quiet, somber and contemplative?
As I walked I prayed. I thought about the youth at church, how many will never know a pre-9/11 world. A world that didn’t include fear and hate and terror. Something changed that day in September 15 years ago and perhaps what I also felt at that memorial was a loss of innocence, a loss of what the world was at that moment.
Whatever it was that made me feel the way I did, I can honestly say God was there. Heck, I took offense to some people touching the memorials other visitors had left on the wall. This is a cemetery people, a memorial and final resting place for that flight. I took offense at the gift shop, pawning off this tragic event to make some money. And then I reminded myself I do the same thing at Gettysburg and Valley Forge and other places.
As we drove to lunch, I thought have we all become numb to 9/11? Have we forgotten and now it’s just tourist sites, just some other memorial or historical marker for a tragic event in our nation’s history? Have we forgotten to remember those people and recognize God in that place? I don’t have answers and I can only say that visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial will forever stay with me.
Dear God, may all of our fallen heroes – recent and in the past, from wars or tragedies, from a regular life to fighting back against evil and hate, whether still alive or resting with you – may they all find peace. Amen.