My husband I frequently drive between the midwest (our parents live in Michigan/Ohio) and the east coast (we live in Virginia). For years we’ve been promising ourselves we’d stop along the way in Shanksville, Pennsylvania at the Flight 93 Memorial. But by the time we get close we are invariably tired of driving and don’t want to make the detour. We just push the last three hours home.
This August we spent an extra night on the road, so we visited the memorial on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I was so glad we did. Today seemed like the right day to tell you about it. Maybe you will feel inspired to make the detour some time if you can. At least you can enjoy the pictures.
The assortment of visitors was what you might see strolling the National Mall in Washington DC on any sunny afternoon: retired couples in golf visors, parents with school-aged children plus a stroller, a throng of boy scouts in khaki uniform, men and women sporting Harley Davidson logos, a woman or two in hijab, a large Amish family in their distinctive white caps and straw hats. In other words: a cross section of America.
The Flight 93 exhibits featured brief media pieces — newscasts and so on — with the images we will never forget. Small groups would watch and listen together, then move on with somber faces. I didn’t trust myself to say even a word to my husband, fearing any sound would catch in my throat and become a sob.
I had read the stories before, of course, but was struck anew by some of the details. What unbelievable bits of information the passengers had to piece together. None of what they heard on their cell phones made sense, yet they grasped what was happening. And how quickly! The passengers of Flight 93 even took a vote: Would they storm the cabin or not? That single fact — the vote — seems unspeakably good to me. What a pure gift of civility, in a moment that would seem to have no moment for such things. Yet each one could speak in their own voice, and then they had one voice. One resolve. They acted with astounding bravery.
Each one of them is truly a hero. To gaze out over that sacred ground is to know this in a new way.
The memorial is “in the middle of nowhere” — as we like to describe countryside. The interpretive center is at the top of a hill that looks out over the crash site, which was a farmer’s field, and has since been sown with wildflowers. In the picture below you can see two walls which delineate the flight path of the plane. The interpretive center is not visible, beyond the crest of the hill.
At the bottom of the hill is a plaza and a wall with the names of those who died. Visitors can walk a winding path down the hill, through the wildflowers, or they can drive to the lower plaza.
On the other side of the plaza is the actual crash site, which is open to family members, but not the general public. A large rock marks the approximate spot where the plane entered the earth and buried itself, upside down. You can barely see the rock against the tree line, to the left of center in the picture below.
As the literature describes it: A common field one day. A field of honor forever.
To close, let me share a snippet of prayer, from a longer prayer which was published in the Presbyterian Outlook for the 15th Anniversary:
God of grace and God of glory, on this the 15-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, grant us the wisdom to remember the lessons from that tragic day that make us more Christ-like. Drive away from us any vengeful urges, any hate-filled sentiment, any whisper from within or without that goads us to return evil for evil.
As we look back and recall where we were, who was with us and how we felt that fateful day, may those vivid memories compel us to acts of kindness, words of love and demonstrations of community. May the myriad of images of helpers – firefighters, police officers, pastors, office workers, ordinary citizens – be the icons that inspire us to be helpers, too. May texts and voicemails of “I love you” and “You are everything to me” assure us that love always has the last word, but that we should never wait to say it.
For the complete prayer, visit the Presbyterian Outlook.