As we drove down the curvy road through rural Pennsylvania, my kids continued to ask detailed questions about September 11, 2001. They wanted to know where the bad guys got on the planes, how many people died and if the passengers knew that they were going to die. While we had talked about 9/11 several times in recent years, something about being at the crash site of one of the planes brought out 1 million questions from my kids. And I quickly started to think that maybe I had made a huge mistake bringing Laurel and Trevor to the Flight 93 Memorial.
Earlier this year, I had the honor of writing about the memorial for the North Raleigh News and had told my kids about the evening I spent with the families of the passengers on Flight 93. Meeting the families who will always have an empty chair at their dinner table made 9/11 feel even more real to me. So when I realized that our summer trip to Pittsburgh would take us near Shanksville, we decided to visit the memorial as a family.
A little while later, we were walking hand-in-hand down the path alongside the crash site, which is now a field filled with beautiful wildflowers. We then stopped to silently read the names of the passengers engraved on the memorial. And took a few minutes to listen to a National Park Ranger tell the story of Flight 93.
As we continued taking the scenery and magnitude of this serene place, I kept picturing the plane coming over the hill upside down before it crashed and thought of how the passengers gave their own lives to save others. My kids asked about the local men who were first at the scene and how the passengers families learned the sad news. I saw Trevor wipe a tear and I realized that the kids were actually talking softly and walking quietly without reminders.
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For most of their life and even before they were born, I had wondered how I would share the story of 9/11 with my kids. I wondered if it was possible for them to grasp what happened and if they would even care. They have always lived in a world where you can't meet people at the gates of airports and you have to take your shoes off to go through security. And a world where us grownups know that it is possible for planes to be flown into buildings.
As we took one last look at the beautiful countryside and breathed the peaceful air, I realized that I had found the perfect way for Laurel and Trevor to understand what the day meant to our country. And that by asking the hard questions that they had come one step closer to really understanding the magnitude of the day that wouldn't have been possible from our living room in Wake Forest. I breathed a sigh of relief that I had done the right thing by bringing my kids to this sacred field in the middle of nowhere.
When we headed back to the car, Trevor looked up at me and said “Mommy, you were right. The people really were heroes.” I had tears in my eyes as I quietly replied, “Yes, honey. They are heroes.”