Monday, September 7, 2009

September 11, 2001

It is the time of the year again when we are reminded of that awful day eight years ago that shook all of us old enough to remember to the absolute core.

Even without mention on the television news, "Where They Are Now" articles in magazines and the tragic, heart-wrenching pictures, I would not - could not - forget.

We all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when the plane hit the first tower. I was driving to work with a colleague and we were laughing about our failed attempt to try a new "short-cut" to downtown Houston.

The announcement broke into our music program, and we both became silent, shocked and saddened by the horrible "accident." It never entered either of our minds that it was anything but a terrible tragedy.

It was on the elevator in our office building that someone told us the second tower had just been struck. That was when a cold chill ran through my entire body. Because I knew now that this was no random happening.

Then came United Flight 93.

As the rest of the day wore on, and the news worstened, I was reminded of the events surrounding John F. Kennedy's assasination from the fatal bullets to the capture of the shooter to his death by an obscure nightclub owner.

Numbness. The T.V. set in the conference room was one, and the entire staff was drawn to it again and again. Finally, it felt like my mind could take in no more horror.

The next few days - the ones in which no sleek, proud jets soared gracefully over our beautiful America - were surreal. Being the wife of a career Air Force flight engineer-turned commerical pilot instructor, flying was an integrel part of my life. I found myself staring into the still blue skies with the feeling that time had somehow become suspended.

Everybody was touched by 9/11. Everybody. I lost a cousin-by-marriage I had never met. Many people suffered far closer pain.

It was a little over two years later when I found myself both at Ground Zero, and the place in Somerset County, Pennsylvania where 93 went down.

Just before Christmas, I was visiting New York and ventured over to the site in blustery cold winds. Severe damage of some neighboring buildings was still evident, like the scars of someone gravely injured but alive. A crude hole had been carved out of the fence surrounding the spot where the twin towers had stood. Inside was a huge gaping hole that bore little semblance to the sights and sounds of that day. Inside an adjacent building were scale models of the proposed memorial. The building itself was full of busy New Yorkers at work. Life had to go on! I applaud those people who continued on with their lives.

It was the next fall when my husband and I were visiting his brother who lived in Somerset County. Of course we wanted to go to the site of Flight 93's crash. As if it could make sense of things when Ground Zero could not.

Again, the wind blew mercilessly but it did not dull the beauty of the place. Soft, green rolling hills were surrounded by the oranges and browns of the turning leaves. The site itself could be seen only from a distance, as befitted the sacred cemetary that it is.

The temporary "mounument" was only a flat space with several stone benches, bearing the names of those who died that September day, facing the final resting place of the brave people on that airplane. The benches silently lure you to sit and remember. The many people who were there that day with us spoke in reverent terms, as if they were in church.

There is a large bulletin board behind the benches which is filled on both sides with every type of memorabilia imaginable. But not one stroke of graffiti. There was military squadron patches, fraternity symbols, photos, notes, crude drawings by school children, poems, religious cards. Some feel this display was tacky. It will be gone when the new, lofty permanent momument is dedicated on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

But I like it the way it was. Closure is an overworked word. And who am I, who had only the slightest connection to anybody who died that day, to deserve "closure."

It's just that there, on that breezy hill with the cluttered bulletin board, the silent benches and the peaceful view, I finally feel like some sense that something grand happened that day among the horror.

Sue Miller

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