We did manage to make it out the door for the last road trip of 2017. Because we were driving past it I decided it was time to stop at Flight 93 National Monument. I had avoided it previously but this year my kids did start asking about 9/11 and terrorism, the news cycle hasn’t been child friendly in the last 2 years. I had avoided it for a number of reasons, I wasn’t sure how I would describe certain aspects to them, or how I would answer any fears they might have, and lastly I had no idea what it would be like. I had also been warned by a friend not to check the book out online. Apparently it has been updated and is much less intense on site, the old book was very emotional and rugged.
We arrived about 90 minutes before it closed, I purposely wanted to not have a ton of time there, just in case it went south there was a perfectly decent reason to leave quickly. The sky was gray and it felt like the entire world was covered in ice. As I got the kids out the wind pierced their jackets that they refuse to zip, and the complaints began. The sheer weight of the place had shortened my temper and I was snappish with them. As we headed from the parking lot we found the walkway towards the visitor center. The walk way is banded with a timeline, so as you walk you step across the the flight numbers and time stamps. It felt ominous to walk through the structures and appropriately solemn even as we hurried through the frigid wind. As soon as you enter the visitors center the stamp is to your left in front of the bookstore. The Rangers greet you warmly, I can only imagine the amount of compassion required to do their job on a daily basis. One Ranger I spoke to said she was honored to serve at the location, but I think I would be overwhelmed by the amount of emotions that must come through there.
A few things stood out and made it easier to talk about it to my kids. One was a giant map of the U.S. that had a green light for every plane that was in the air at the time the first plane struck the Twin Towers. It really quantified how much air travel was there and how panicked our nation became. There was a seating chart that showed Passengers, Crew and Terrorists. There were biographies of each of the passengers and crew, which is so incredibly humanizing. My children mostly raced through the exhibits to the end and we worked backwards. You’ll see below the there is a case of tribute items. That really caught their attention, Lemon saw a Black Belt in it and that impacted her because she also practices martial arts. Ranger is near to having his black belt and so she then went and found the biography of the man who’s belt it was. Another heart wrenching moment was her insistence on listening to the final phone calls. I picked up the opposite phone and we listened together, both of us had tears streaming by the end of the third answering machine message. Lemon was kind of wreck after that and I am enormously proud that she continued through.
The biggest surprise to me was how many feelings I had being in this place and how much came back about 9/11. I viscerally remembered the confusion and then fear I felt watching the news from New Mexico. I grew up in New York City and that was my home. I remembered watching the news and seeing one of my parents running from the collapsing tower. I remember telling myself that I was being melodramatic and imagining it, when my roomate said “Oh God, isn’t that-???” confirming that I had seen my parent near that horror. I remember the busy signal trying to call home and then miraculously getting through 3 times that day and being assured that they were both still okay, that all our family was okay.
We finished right about the time they were closing, and the Ranger who swore them in was solemn and authoritative, in a kind way, about the importance of this place. He really took time to talk to them and even gave them special pins that were from the 100 year birthday of the park system. We left quietly to continue our trip. As we drove my husband and I shared our memories of that day with each other and our children listened quietly. We talked a lot about shared cultural memories, including The Challenger Disaster and J.F.K’s assassination. The idea of time buffering pain, that many National Park monuments are to horrific events but this one evokes such a visceral memory because it isn’t buffered by passed time. We will definitely go here again, when the children are older and in a different season when we can walk the memorial grounds.