On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was sitting in a classroom on the first day of the term at Furman University. I had just finished the first course of my senior year – “Freedom in the Western Tradition” – and was settling into my second of the day – “Islam.”
The irony of that juxtaposition was not lost on me that morning.
As planes crashed in New York City, Washington, DC and a field in Pennsylvania, I watched and prayed. Two days later, as news was still developing, student leaders at Furman led a prayer vigil for our country. At our opening of school convocation, the Furman community sang a hopeful “America, the Beautiful” in place of the typical rendition of our alma mater.
A decade after 9/11, each of us can remember our feelings of shock, anger, and fear and tell the story of where we were when the news found us. When we take the time to share our stories, we memorialize the event. But the stories of those that perished in the attacks will be forever told through our national memorials.
The Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial was dedicated three years ago. 184 benches, each representing one of the lives lost at the site, jut up from the ground and hover over reflection pools. The benches are arranged along an age line – from the youngest victim aged 3 to the oldest, 71. Each is engraved with the name of the victim for whom it stands.
While facing the Pentagon, visitors see the inscriptions for those that died in the building; whereas the inscriptions for those who died aboard the plane can be read by facing the sky in the direction from which the plane travelled.
The gravel underfoot, the sound of flowing water, and the peeling paperbark maple trees at the site give the sensation that this is a place of memory, different from the area around it.
The memorials at the World Trade Center in New York City and the site of the Flight 93 crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania will be dedicated this weekend. Like the Pentagon Memorial, the two memorials to be dedicated on this solemn anniversary tell the stories of the lives lost there.
Each memorial is set apart from its surroundings, creating a place for reflection. Each shares the stories of the victims as individuals. And each creates a space designed for national remembrance.
Memorials move us from saying an independent, “I will never forget,” to declaring as a nation, “We will always remember.” They cause us to pause, to contemplate our history, and to share our own stories.
This September 11th, take the time to learn about our three national memorials and the stories of the lives they represent, reflect on the events of these last ten years, and tell your own story of remembrance.
Dr. John A. McArthur is an assistant professor in the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte and resides in Greenville, SC. Contact Dr. McArthur at http://jamcarthur.com