Imagine how hard it was for reporters to do their jobs. It was nearly impossible to stay unbiased as I heard the names of the dead read by family members.
Four weeks prior to the memorial services, media outlets across the country featured individuals who were willing to talk of how their lives changed from 9/11. Networks profile the photographer who took the famed shot of The Falling Man.
Fast forward to the day of 9/11/11 and anyone visiting an online news outlet, social media network or scanning the headlines on TV would find themselves overwhelmed with coverage of the commemorative ceremonies occurring that day. Over the next few days, a few more headlines arose concerning 9/11 and its remembrance, but for the most part, other news began to take precedence.
Here we are, only two weeks later and what do we have to show for it? We, as in the news media, are no longer talking about 93 Cents for Flight 93, about the performances at the Pentagon and at Ground Zero, or about phase 2 of the Flight 93 Memorial. It seems as though Americans have a singular thought: “Life goes on.”
Still, I ask: What about those thousands of families who lost loved ones? Life goes on for them as well but they live with a constant reminder, a painful absence. The majority of the population acknowledges that 9/11 was a tragedy, but I’m not sure we all recognize how big of a deal it really was.
The term “Never Forget,” is set on repeat during our times of tragedy and remembrance, but those are just two words. Where’s the action behind them? Some fear that America will one day grow complacent again, leaving us vulnerable for yet another devastating tragedy like 9/11.
“I’m in awe that people still forget, especially the younger generation,” said Sargent First Class Scott Ferris, a member of the Marine Corps. who showed his support at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA.
Ferris argued that you cannot possibly comprehend how it feels unless you actually lost someone or are visiting the memorial in uniform.
On some level, he’s right. We simply don’t get it. Our generation grew up in a world full of high security, orange and red alerts, religious and racial prejudices and endless streams of information on the Internet. For many of us, the true meaning of 9/11 didn’t hit home until the 10th anniversary took place.
To meet and speak with the families of those lost on Flight 93 was truly a remarkable and life-changing experience. To witness a blind woman touch the memorial wall to read the names of those lost is moving beyond words.
Attending the 10th anniversary service at Shanksville was a cathartic experience, revisiting and reflecting on our feelings as adults. With each year, we grasped a new contextual understanding of the event, but still the childish fear and sadness pervaded.
Listening to the speeches of Gov. Tom Corbett, former Gov. Tom Ridge, Reps. Mark Critz and Bill Shuster was inspirational. The litany read by Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller forced everyone to look at the big picture in terms of the lives lost:
“When we have joy we crave to share, we remember them. / When we have decisions that are difficult to make, we remember them. / When we have achievements that are based on theirs, we remember them. / As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.”
Too often, we find ourselves disrespecting the lives of those lost on 9/11. “I have a little bit of trouble with Miss Collegiate coming with her crown to get a picture in front of the wall,” said Joan Fleischl, who lost two dear friends, Jean and Donald Peterson, in the Flight 93 crash.
“This is our anniversary of our loved ones’ deaths and it needs to be treated as such. They were memorialized, and yes, they are national heroes, but they’re also our loved ones and this needs to be a sacred space and sacred time right now,” said Fleischl.
Another criticism of the day was the president arrival. As much as I enjoyed seeing the President of the United States as a young reporter, and as much as I believe his attendance was necessary and respectful to the ceremony, I think the event became much more about him than the victims.
I did appreciate that despite different political views, people responded to our president with the patriotism and respect the day deserved.
The sacrifices of the 9/11 victims and heroes, along with the sacrifices of our armed forces and emergency response personnel, are a reminder that our country is not invincible. The anniversary of 9/11 has come and gone, but the memories should stay fresh in our minds because this was a day that truly changed the World, not just America.