On the bright, blue morning of September 11th, 2001, I found myself pondering far less weighty matters, as I sped through the the rolling, mountainous countryside of central Pennsylvania, en route to a business meeting in Ebensburg, a scant 39 miles north of what would shortly become the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93, in Shanksville. As it happens, the client with whom I was meeting, L. Robert Kimball and Associates, designs and builds 911 dispatch centers, including those that received many thousands of the desparate — and often heroically inspiring calls for help that fateful morning. As the first surreal images of the twin towers and West side of the Pentagon engulfed in flames appeared on the conference room TV minutes after my arrival, Kimball CFO Sam Kearns observed — with prophetic understatement, "We're going to remember this day for a long, long, time."Share
Ten years later to the day, I returned to the site of the Flight 93 National Memorial to witness an extraordinary gathering of surviving family members, first responders (EMS, firefighters, police officers and others), active duty and retired military personnel, and thousands of just-plain-regular folks; humble souls of every imaginable age, creed and color who came from around the U.S. and beyond simply to pay their respects to the dead, and to stand in solidarity with the living. It was a humbling and awe-inspiring experience to be counted among them.
More than anything else, I was overwhelmed by the sense of both the fragility and brevity of human life, and reminded of the heroic men and women — some of whose names and stories are forever emblazoned in our collective memory; but many more of whose names are known only to God alone. I thought about how grace builds upon nature, and how imperfect, ordinary, sinful human beings are capable of extraordinary, selfless and Christlike sacrifice. I thought about how many took our Lord's own words to heart on 9/11, and in the days, weeks and months that followed, as well. "Greater love has no man than than lay down his life for his friends." —John 15:13
I thought about Pope John Paul's assurance to us that "The Church testifies to her hope, based on the conviction that evil, the mysterium iniquitatis, does not have the final word in human affairs...The history of salvation, narrated in Sacred Scripture, sheds clear light on the entire history of the world and shows us that human events are always accompanied by the merciful Providence of God, who knows how to touch even the most hardened of hearts and bring good fruits even from what seems utterly barren soil."
That day in Shanksville, I prayed for the repose of the souls of those who perished, and for their families who lived on. I shot some photos. And I returned home a better man. (Read entire post.)