FLIGHT 93 MEMORIAL
I arrive at the Flight 93 Memorial at dawn, for what I suppose to be pragmatic reasons: I am making my way home from a month-long trip, and I want to be there by the end of the day. I hope to have the place to myself, which I do for awhile. The photographer in me wants to take advantage of the early light. But once here I realize that the reward for getting up early is the peace that seems to suffuse this place now, and the feeling that I am walking on hallowed ground.
As I approach the Tower of Voices I feel profoundly affected, more than in any other place I have ever been. Certainly it is the gravity of what happened here that day, to the people who were on the flight as well as to our country. But I also think it is because, like my countrymen, I lived through that day and can vividly recall exactly what I was doing when I learned the news. I suspect that people of my father's generation who were alive when Pearl Harbor was attacked feel the same way when they visit the Battleship Arizona. The propensity that I have for moving too quickly, for not being in the present, deserts me. Time seems to slow down; I walk slowly, carefully, becoming absorbed by the place. Everything, the birds, the worms crossing the sidewalk in front of me, seem to be inhabited. I walk up the gentle, wildflower-covered hill upon which the tower has been built. Even though the air is completely still at this time of day, as I walk into the tower I feel the slightest breeze blowing on my face. The logical side of my brain thinks that it is a Bernoulli effect caused by the air moving between the concrete columns; my spiritual side feels that there is another reason. As the day grows brighter the sky turns a brilliant blue, just as it was on the morning of September 11, 2001.
The tower, like every other part of the memorial, is filled with symbolism. It is described as a ninety-three foot tall musical instrument; the height marking the flight number. It contains forty wind-powered chimes, one to represent the voice of each of the passengers and crew members on the plane who united that morning to defeat the terrorists' plans. The chimes are based on a C Lydian mode, designed to “create both harmony and dissonance with the surrounding chimes.” The tower is circular in shape, placed off-center on a circular base, and contains only two simple benches. The hill on which the tower sits is flanked by trees planted in concentric circles.
As I imagine do most people who visit the memorial, I wonder about the actual impact site. Is it where the tower sits? Is it hidden to prevent desecration by unthoughtful people? I learn that Flight 93 crashed into the ground about two miles away from the tower, in a clearing at the edge of a grove of hemlock trees, where the Memorial Plaza has been built. As I enter the plaza I see several signboards that describe what happened on September 11, one of which contains photographs of the heroes of that day.
A black granite walkway with a sloping wall borders the impact site; angled lines cut into the granite represent the shape of hemlock trees. I follow the walkway to the Wall of Names, forty white marble panels, each bearing the name of a passenger or crew member, aligned along Flight 93's path. A ceremonial gate constructed of hewn hemlock beams separates the walkway from the impact site.
The crater and debris field that the aircraft left in the ground has been filled in and replanted with wildflowers, a beautiful and placid meadow in stark contrast to the morning of September 11. I find it impossible to raise my camera to my eye here; It somehow seems voyeuristic, disrespectful.
If the definition of hallowed ground is a parcel of land where something profound has occurred, then the impact site certainly meets that criteria. Having learned what had already happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon after Flight 93 had been commandeered by terrorists, the passengers and crew realized that their plane was meant to become a missile aimed at another important edifice of our republic, so they did what Americans do: they took matters into their own hands and prevented the attack, likely knowing full well that these were their last moments on earth.
I reflect on the lives of those forty people. About the photograph of Flight Attendant Sandy Waugh Bradshaw, sitting in the flight deck with a smile that would light up the darkest night. About Todd Beamer, who would never meet the child that his wife Lisa was pregnant with, and who said to his fellow passengers, “Are you guys ready? Okay. Let's roll.” About Deora Frances Bodley, who at twenty years of age had her entire life in front of her. I think about all of the loved ones they left behind. And I also think about the effect that the crash of Flight 93 had, and probably continues to have to this day, on the people who lived in the bucolic rolling countryside surrounding the crash.