Eight years after 9/11, I was driving the 700 miles alone to visit a grand in Pennsylvania. Somewhere along the way, I had this compulsion to make a detour and visit Shanksville. I had seen photos of the field where United Airlines Flight 93 went down, but had never had the same visual grasp of that ground that I had with the towers or even the Pentagon. Plus, it just felt like I shouldn’t be that close and not pay my respects. So I started googling and began to develop some sense of the route I needed to start taking. It would be a long and deliberate one. The fields of farmland really were remote, and not in an area that a traveler would likely just stumble across. If you were going to crash a plane here, to save lives there, it was a good choice.
The trip was, in fact, a solemn one, but that turned out to be a fitting preparation for my arrival. The place was respectfully, but barely, marked really. There were other visitors there, but none of the current park development had even begun. I read the little bit of information that was posted at the time. Then I stood at the edge of the road and looked across the meadow. It was hard not to think about the fear the passengers and crew on that flight must have felt as events began to unfold. It was useless to try to block the mental images of the actual crash, the murder of folks who were just trying to get from Newark to San Francisco. There was no way to avoid seeing faces of men and women like us who died so tragically – and to hope that we too would have fought back so heroically. And it was impossible not to know that, if my loved one was on that plane, I would never want anyone to expect me to substitute platitudes - like heroic - for my loss and grief.
But standing there, looking at the scene, so peaceful that day, I had an opportunity to silently thank those souls – and their families – for their courage. It was all I had, and that was all I could do, but it was well worth the trip to be able to do it as my eyes swept across sacred ground.