When Time Stood Still
When Time Stood Still

When Time Stood Still

I intended this blog post to be about the recent total eclipse, but it changed direction on the way to my computer screen.

I will say the total eclipse was spellbinding. We saw an inverted golden rainbow below the sun moments before totality. Shadows cast as the eclipse started were different and eerie. The direction and shapes weren’t normal.

A plane flew by, and I could see a shadow of the plane on the sky above it! Our dog became agitated and confused. Birds stopping singing. Streetlights came on and stayed on even after the eclipse was over.

There seemed to be some immense power at that moment that we humans weren’t tuned in to the way animals and the rest of nature were.

On the drive back to DC from Ohio we let Google Maps show us the way without paying attention to direction – unlike on our trip to Ohio where we made several planned stops. I happened to glance up just in time to see a sign that said Flight 93 Memorial Next Exit.

The exit was looming, and I said, “Exit, Chris! Exit here. Right now.”

He pulled into a gas station and said, “Where are we going?”

“Nine miles to the Flight 93 Memorial.”

What a moment. As we pulled into the park the first thing we saw was this enormous bell tower. It was 93 feet tall and held 40 wind chimes in different tones. One chime to represent each person lost on the plane. The sound of the chimes resonated deep within and set the stage for what was to come.

Driving down Approach Road we came to a visitor center. Somber and stark, rising at sharp angles from the top of a hill. Inside we listened to the voices of Flight 93 passengers as they made phone calls to their loved ones. We saw a jumble of wires, a charred computer board, and shards of metal in a Debris Display. We gazed upon corporate IDs, driver’s licenses, and even a badge that survived the crash. We watched a timeline of the events of 9/11 and planes in the skies. We saw an intact Visa card belonging to one of the hijackers that the FBI was able to use to follow the money trail for funding the 9/11 attacks. We learned that the black box was found 25 feet deep in the ground and that recovered bits of human remains were able to identify every single passenger, and the four hijackers, on board that day.

Remains that could not be identified were eventually buried together in the field where the plane struck.

Walking out of the visitor center, we found ourselves on a path marked in black which we learned was the actual flight path of the plane. Walking to the end, we were on a platform overlooking the debris field, and, in the distance, we could see the large boulder which marked the location where the plane came to rest. The glass wall was inscribed, “A common field one day. A field of honor forever.” Hauntingly gripping.

The visitors were reserved, respectful, courteous, and cautious. We all knew we were standing on a field of glory. Having just toured the Center, we felt like we knew the forty men and women, and one unborn baby, whose lives were impacted and ended here.

We asked ourselves what we would have done as passengers on the plane. Would we have had the courage to act? How would we face our imminent end? September 11, 2001. A day that started like any other but ended up changing the world forever.  We remembered where we were that morning and feelings washed over us. We pondered receiving one of those recorded phone calls. How would we react? We wondered what could have been so powerful – or so lacking – to drive the hijackers to their self-destruction. We imagined what this field was like before 9/11, just a common field unremarkable in the geography of similar fields. We looked around to see houses in the distance. Were they there that day? Did they witness the events?

Everyone was immersed in their thoughts. Conversation was limited. It was truly a moment of silence.

I purchased three books in the visitor center and have finished one of them. A memoir by the husband of Lauren Grandcolas, pregnant with her first child, who left one of those recorded voicemails for her husband telling him she loved him and it would be okay.

One line in his book haunts me. Decades later, the author sat next to an older woman at an airport where they were putting shoes on after going through the security checkpoint. The woman looked at him and said, “9/11 was certainly an inconvenience for all of us, wasn’t it?”

He answered, “Some more than others.”

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