Sunday, September 11, 2011

A few words, when I feel like I have no words

Today I write from my hotel room in Somerset, Pennsylvania. I'm feeling emotional enough without having to struggle through thousands of others to get to the 9/11 Anniversary at the newly unveiled Flight 93 Memorial just a few miles away. I'm incredibly grateful to have made it to the Dedication Ceremony yesterday and witness a miniscule sliver of the best of humanity.

My friend and I drove about 3 hours from DC to Pennsylvania. It was a gorgeous morning and we felt disbelief about the severe thunderstorms predicted for the day. As we drove past Bedford and along the Lincoln Highway, the dark clouds appeared above the scenic foothills.

We exited into several miles of rolling foothills and traffic and when we finally parked and entered the Memorial, the sun was out and the temperature wonderfully pleasant. Sarah McLaughlin was singing I Will Remember You in her soothing and meditative melody. Amongst some of the moving speakers were George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and especially inspiring, Joe Biden. The Memorial consists of 40 white panels, angled like wings outlining the flight path. Several feet away lies a 17-ton boulder above the spot where the plane crashed. OK, I probably consider the Vice President's speech a bit more because I could actually hear him. Accoustics weren't exactly the best for those of us in the crowd and while I try to fenagle VIP status as much as possible, this was one event I was happy not to have been included.

I happened to be up front for the portion of the memorial where the names of all the passengers and crew were engraved and witnessed its unveiling by the dignitaries listed above, along with Jill Biden, Laura Bush and Tom Ridge. Shortly after, the families walked over and took time to see their loved one's names. Some walked to the boulder and others walked through the crowd in order to exit. People graciously parted a path to let them through and spontaneously clapped as each person walked through. I wasn't sure if it would be embarrassing for them, it wasn't exactly a celebratory moment, but it felt right for us. We were celebrating. Celebrating the thoughtfulness and courage of their loved ones, expressing gratitude for their inspiration to us on how to be brave and reminding us on the priority to love. Those final moments were not only spent on thwarting the hijackers but expressing love and gratitude to their families. You have a few minutes left to live, how else would you want to spend it.

Next to me was one of the Shanksville volunteer firemen who was a first responder. Family members who recognized him expressed their own gratitude to him. Others were too lost in their grief and faced the crowd with tears in their eyes. One son couldn't even look up as he entered and one mother stopped before us and said, "Thank you all!"

The families were promised 30 minutes of private time at the Memorial, but we waited at least an hour. Vice President Biden, who was previously Pennsylvania's senator, hung out with the families for an extensive amount of time. Some in the crowd grew impatient, but quite frankly, he was doing the right thing. This was their moment, their day.

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