Driving back from a business trip, Victor and I stopped at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Our route from NYC to Cincinnati took us clear across Pennsylvania and we were looking for a place to stop at about the 1/2 way point on our journey home. The options were Hershey, Pennsylvania to take a chocolate tour or the Flight 93 Memorial.
The Flight 93 Memorial is off the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Pennsylvania. Actually, it’s about 20 miles off the interstate till you get to the National Park entrance, and then an additional 3.5 mile drive back to the actual memorial, and then a .25 mile walk to the actual site.
I was really interested to see this memorial for a few reasons.
First, because it’s really in the middle of nowhere. I was wondering how trafficked this National Park really was and if many people were interested in visiting. It’s sad, right?
Second, I wanted to see the memorial given the controversy that surrounded it and the years it took to get it open.
Third, I didn’t particularly want to be reminded of September 11, but I did recognize the value in revisiting a piece of recent history.
September 11 was a day I ‘grew up’ a lot as a 16-year-old. I saw the attacks as they were happening live. I was home from school that day because my Grandfather died and we were going to bury him. He was to be buried the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I was rehearsing the eulogy I had written for him, sitting at the end of my Mom and Dad’s bed, while watching Katie Couric on the TV propped up on my Dad’s dresser and seeing the planes hitting the towers. I drove with my parents and my sister to the church for the visitation with the radio blaring news of the attacks. My Mom could not even process it. I remember sitting there in the back seat of the van on my way to the church thinking about much more than just burying my Grandfather. He was already dead, but thousands of people were actively dying as we were driving to the church. How could this be? That day really shaped my perspectives on death because of the juxtaposition of the events of that day. I remember reading the eulogy I had written in a new light that afternoon. I was reading those words with a much broader perspective than I had on September 10, or even just that morning. The value of an individual life became more than just a nice phrase I could mutter in conversation with adults, and really became something I had an understanding of.
I also wanted to see the Flight 93 Memorial because comparatively it wasn’t covered as much as the Towers or the Pentagon. And, I wanted to see how they’d deal with the site as a memorial. The crash was in the middle of nowhere, in a field. What do you say?
I learned quite a bit about the particulars of Flight 93. I didn’t know that the plane crashed upside down. I didn’t know that it crashed at 563 miles an hour. Or that up on impact, 7,000+ gallons of jet fuel exploded effectively cremating everything at once. Looking around at the vibrant blue sky and breathing the clean, cool air you couldn’t help but feel the contrast between such a violent crash and such peaceful, quiet surroundings. There was a farm off in the distance with a red barn and a wind farm too. Idyllic. It’s amazing to think that terrorism so violently impacted this little, idyllic, spot that only ever kept to itself.
We were there about 4:30pm on a Monday. The park closes at 5pm. When we arrived, there were about 10 or so folks meandering through the site. Then, two giant travel buses pulled up and out poured 40 or so kids from an athletic team of some sort. They bounded off the bus and raced each other to the end of the Memorial walkway. So, it seemed to be pretty heavily trafficked for being so far out and kind of sad.
On our way out, I looked at the board with all the pictures of the people who died. I thought to myself how they were victims of terrorism.
Then I thought to myself about the terrorists themselves. They were victims too. Yes, they made a choice, but they were victims of something very dark too.
A few days previous to this, I took Victor to the World Trade Center site, but we weren’t there to see the 9/11 memorial or the new tower going up. We were there to see the church. St. Paul’s Chapel carries such an amazing story. First, it’s a cemetery in lower Manhattan. Second, it has an incredible history.
- George Washington went to church here on his Inauguration Day in 1789.
- It’s one of the oldest buildings in New York.
- And it didn’t even get a broken window after the September 11 attacks.
For me, when I first went to this site on a hot summer night by myself, the church is what put the whole thing into perspective for me. I think the same thing happened for Victor, too. It was quite a history lesson to travel from this spot in lower Manhattan to the Flight 93 Memorial just a few days later.
The church is a great place to stop if you are in NYC. Just visit their website and you’ll see what you can learn about 9/11.
So what is there to say? I think this whole experience relates back to something I hold very deeply. In planning for a future (your own or in general) you have to know where you’ve been to better understand where you are. And, you can’t effectively plan for the future unless you understand where you are at present.
Living in the present is about understanding the past. Preparing for the future is about understanding the present.