Everything is calm across the vast plain where the plane fell from the sky so many years ago. The hills around Shanksville seem to swallow sound.
Thinking of those who died in this southwestern Pennsylvania expanse, as millions of Americans board to visit the Flight 93 National Memorial, which sits right above the landscape, offering calm where it needs to be. Let’s make a pocket.
It is a place that encourages the act of remembering. Twenty years have passed since United Flight 93 made its final descent, with buildings burning 300 miles to the east sparking chaos. About a fifth of the country is so small that one cannot remember the first day that changed everything.
At the edge of the monument overlooking the monument, a fat man in a Harley Davidson vest talks to two companions. He points to the patch where the plane was hit. It’s an intimate conversation, and it’s hard to hear what he’s saying.
But his first two words are clear: “I remember”. Remembering is not just a state of mind. Those who tell us to never forget the Holocaust have been insisting for a long time, this is an act. And when humans are faced with loss and trauma, the act of remembering takes many forms.
Remember it is political. Those who disagree about the fate of Confederate statues in the American South demonstrate that, while those who dispute that war on terror and its toll should be part of the discussion about memories of 9/11.
Remember to wear multiple coats. It takes place at Ground Zero ceremonies and there are moments of silence and prayer at both public and private prayers. It shows itself in folk monuments such as on the sides of secluded roads to mark the sites of traffic deaths. It is embodied in the names of places, such as the road that leads to the Flight 93 memorial, Lincoln Highway.
This comes to the fore in the retrieval of “flashbulb memories,” those where-you-when-are moments that stick with us, sometimes accurate, sometimes not.
There are personal memories and cultural memories and political memories, and the line between them is often blurred. And over generations, memory has been presented in monuments and memorials like Shanksville, designed to interact and create and evoke and evoke the memories and emotions of people and moments in certain ways.
Monuments make history visible. They are temples that celebrate ideals, achievements and heroes that existed at a time, architectural historian Judith Dupre wrote about them in her 2007 book, a book she first presented to its publisher on All Dates, September 10, 2001. was introduced to. .
Yet when the monuments stand, the memory itself develops. How 9/11 is remembered depends on when 9/11 is remembered. Remembering it on September 15, 2001, or September 11, 2004 is different from remembering September 11, 2011 or, for that matter, it is different from the next weekend.
What, then, is the point of remembering a 20th anniversary, or at some point when an event like 9/11 begins to sink into the past, becoming history, even if its echoes are still shaking the foundations of everything?
“Our present affects how we remember the past” sometimes in known ways and sometimes in ways we don’t realize, says Jennifer Tallarico, professor of psychology at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, who Study how people form personal memories of public events.
Evidence of this is evident in the events of the past five weeks in Afghanistan, where a 20-year war in direct response to 9/11 began where it began: with the oppressive and violent Taliban once again.
“If we were still in Afghanistan and things were stable, we’d probably remember 9/11 in a different way than how we remember it this year,” says Richard Cooper, vice president of the nonprofit Space Foundation. The Department of Homeland Security for many years after the attacks and has seen many recalls over the years.
“The heartache and pain we felt on the morning of September 12, 2001, is rekindling itself.” “And it affects how we remember it today,” says Cooper.
Even within more stable forms of memory, such as the Flight 93 National Memorial, the question of how memory changes and develops is so much more. In the visitors center, the visceral, painstaking artworks of the moment still bring back the past with astonishing efficiency; The folded, scorched cutlery from in-flight meals is an especially breathtaking sight.
But the diversity of remembrance that is presented yards away on the quiet overlook and its thoughtful memorial seems more enduring, more eternal and now, 20 years later, more fitting for something that happened a generation ago.
Paul Murdoch of Los Angeles, the monument’s principal architect, says it was carefully calibrated to resonate across multiple stages of memory about the event and its implications.
“You can imagine a monumental approach that freezes anger at times, or liberates fear. And it can be a very expressionist piece of art. But I think that’s something to endure for a long time. For this, I think it has to operate in a different way,” says Murdoch, who co-designed the monument with his wife Milena.
“We now have a generation of people who didn’t even survive 9/11,” Murdoch says. So how do you talk to the people of this new generation or generations to come?
This question is especially strong on this 20th anniversary. Society marks generations in packages of two decades, so there is a whole that has been born and out of date since the attacks. That hardly means they’re not paying attention, though; They miss, even when they are not around.
Christine Baccho, a professor of psychology at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, studies how nostalgia works. She found something interesting a few years ago when she was researching how young people encountered stories that resonated with them both personally and through the news.
Even those who lacked living memories of 9/11, Baccho says, responded with stories about the incident. It was remembering as a shared experience. And no wonder. Many of the first encounters with 9/11 on the day it occurred were, in the tradition of the Information Age, both isolated and communal.
People in different parts of the country and the world, under different circumstances, looked at the same live camera angles on the same few feeds and the same, now-indelible thoughts of destruction in the same way. They experienced it separately, but together. This constituted a kind of communal memory, even though sometimes people who saw the same things didn’t remember them in the same way: a specific camera angle or vantage point, a key person’s comments, the exact sequence of events.
Memorization can be the same, say experts like Tallarico, especially with intense flashbulb memories like 9/11 that make deep grooves but aren’t precise in details.
“We reconstruct the phenomenon through our own lens, and part of that lens is very social,” Baccho says. You would think that the memories would be more cohesive and homogeneous. It turns out it’s a lot more complicated than that.
31 May 2002, less than a year later. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani told high school students in Shanksville at his debut: “A hundred years from now, people are going to come and see this. And they would like to know what happened.”
11 September 2016, 15th anniversary. President Barack Obama Says: “Fifteen years may seem like a long time. But for the families who lost a piece of their heart that day, I think it may seem like yesterday. That fundamental tension feels like yesterday, yes, but it’s also going to be part of history for the long haul, which lays before us in the days to come as many contemplate 9/11 and remember. do your work.
For those who were not at the center of the horrors of 9/11 and its pain, but experienced it as part of the culture in which they live, it can somehow feel like yesterday and a long time ago . And as with many acts of remembrance, this is still debated and disputed and will be for a long time to come.
9/11 historian John Bodner wrote in an opinion piece for the Washington Post in May that the sober ceremony should not mislead us into thinking of the public memory of this horrific event.
At a hinge point like a major anniversary, especially with something as seismic as 9/11, it’s easy to fall back on such a formula from William Faulkner: The past is never dead. It is not even past. But the saying holds for a reason.
Memory becomes history. And history “shared history” is held tightly, sometimes ruthlessly. This is why so many people hold tight to relaxed, nostalgic historical narratives, even when they are shown to be as destructive as they were productive.
The act of remembering something like 9/11 involves the exact same delicate balance. When memory becomes history, it may become more remote like a Revolutionary War memorial to those whose passion and sacrifice have been sanded down over time. With distance, it can get quieter.
It’s not going to happen for long with 9/11, of course. Its politics is still going on. The arguments it gave and the way it sent hurtling society in a different direction is as intense as it was in those early days. And when a nation stops to remember the morning it was attacked 20 years ago, it’s not only looking over its shoulder. It’s also looking around and wondering: What does this mean for us now?
What is important in making memorabilia, what do we remember and how do we remember? J William Thompson wonders in his beautiful 2017 book, From Memory to Memorial: Shanksville, America, and Flight 93.
Any answer to this, understandably, is complicated. But behind all the ceremonial words and ways of celebrating a day that shook the world, something more fundamental hides: a simple imperative to capture the spirit of what changed and how.
On the cover of Thompson’s book, a man stands looking out at the Shanksville crash site, his right hand raised. To his left is a hand-painted sign with four words, a declarative sentence: “I have not forgotten.”