In fifteen years, how much has changed?

Our way of life as Americans was altered on 9/11/01 and has remained something we adapt to every time we fly, if not something we notice at other, random moments in our lives.

Visitors to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York can reconnect with that Tuesday morning at 8:46 when the North Tower was struck and at 9:02 when thousands of us were watching as the South Tower was hit.

By 9:37 we learned that a plane had flown into the Pentagon.

Twenty-one minutes later, we were told that a plane somewhere east of Pittsburgh had been hijacked. Five minutes later we heard it disappeared.

Our collective breath stopped.

The South Tower collapsed at 9:59 and the North Tower at 10:28. We stayed stunned for a long time, bewildered that these massive structures disappeared in 10 seconds. In the time between these two obliterations, the Pentagon wall fell.

Grounding of air traffic.

By 9:42, all 4,500 airborne planes have been ordered to land. The continuing empty skies, contrails evaporated, were eerie. Too much like a Hollywood thriller to be real. It takes until 12:16 for the last plane to land. What was it like to be in the air that day?

Flight 93 and the Heroes Aboard.

Visiting the Flight 93 Memorial this month brings forth an array of emotions.

It’s good that there’s a two-mile drive from the highway to the Visitor’s Center. You have time to disconnect from the trek to get to this rural spot near the tiny borough of Stoystown, population barely over 400 and to think about 9/11/01.

Flight 93 National Memorial

Flight 93 National Memorial

Your anticipation builds of both honoring the Americans who fought terrorism that day and knowing that you will not be able to maintain stoicism as you read about what happened and hear the voices relating stories.

The parking lot was overfull with cars, trucks, motorcycles and motorhomes spilled onto the flat grassy areas.

Forty people, the smallest number of casualties in one location that day. Yet their story, in its immediacy, had us thinking: What would I have done? Would I have been courageous enough to try to take over the plane, knowing that either way, death was most likely imminent?

The Visitor’s Center is part of the flight path and as you walk to the observation deck, you can feel the trajectory of the plane.

It becomes almost surreal.

There is a long, descending, zigzagged path from the Visitor’s Center to Memorial Plaza. As you walk, you contemplate what you learned viewing the Exhibits and ponder what you may feel at the Wall of Names.

The crash site, marked with a massive sandstone boulder, is the final resting place of the crew and passengers and is off limits to visitors. The families can go there for peace and solitude any time they choose.

Final resting place of crew & passengers

Final resting place of crew & passengers

If you continue the following loop back up to the Visitor’s Center, you walk through the 40 Memorial Groves, planted in tribute to each of the passengers and crew.

Walk through the Memorial Grove

Walk through the Memorial Grove

 

9/11 is still impactful.

In total, that day, nearly 3,000 people died.

Think about a town that size that you’ve been in and what if, within an hour, it was gone. All the people, all the buildings, gone.

Maybe what has changed is that some people are more aware of the living history that unfolds around us in the moment when it’s happening.