In the years after a war ends or after a tragic event occurs, communities come together to memorialize those we lost. Through mediums like stone or steel or water, we seek to remind ourselves and the generations after ours of the sacrifices made, of the lives that were lived. It's not an easy feat to create something that is heartfelt and powerful, a memorial that will, at once, ground the viewer but also transport them. Something that is worthy of those little letters etched in stone, the names of those departed.
Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, a day that simultaneously threw the United States into a time of darkness and pain, but for many, was also a time when people were drawn together. That day has a long-lasting reach, not only for family members and friends who lost their loved ones, but for the country, as we continue to grapple with the effects of terrorism and acts of violence. This anniversary is also particularly poignant as our nation mourns those who have passed from the coronavirus and as we draw together to help each other during this pandemic.
Yesterday, I read several powerful accounts from 9/11 survivors (https://www.aarp.org/politics-society/history/info-2021/911-anniversary.html) which made me think deeply about tragedy and how we can honor those who were lost. I also became interested in physical memorials- I had seen plaques, statues, sculptures, and other types of memorials before but I had never stopped to think about the hands that designed them, the people who brought them into being. Last night, I read about the attacks, but more importantly, I read about the sacrifices that were made by first responders as well as citizens who just wanted to lend a hand, people who saw a need and decided to help. How do we memorialize their lives?
There are 9/11 memorials across the country, but one that stuck out to me was The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. Spread out are benches, each with a little pool of water underneath them. Between the benches are trees, the green of their leaves a contrast to the stone and metal of the benches. The benches are arranged in a timeline, marking the birth dates of people who were killed in the airplane hijacking- the youngest was a child of only three years old.
The memorial was designed by Keith Kaseman and Julie Beckman of the firm, Kaseman Beckman Advanced Strategies, who won an international competition to design the memorial. Their firm stated:
"Like many people, from the moment we witnessed and learned of the horrific loss of life on the morning of September 11, 2001, we simply wished to extend our hearts to those whose lives had changed forever. Words will never describe how honored we feel to have played such a significant role in the Pentagon Memorial. It has been a true privilege to be part of a stellar team, and to have worked so closely with so many people who gave the project their absolute best. Further, we will forever be inspired by the strength and determination that carries all of the family members we have come to know so well over the past 6 years. Thousands of people contributed to this place so that its contemplative integrity will persist into the distant future and with its dedication, the Pentagon Memorial will take on its own life, attracting meaning and contemplative interpretation from all of those who visit this special place."
They also stated in a press release that they wanted the memorial to be thought-provoking without prescribing thought. They wanted to help tell the story of those whose lives were taken.
Tomorrow we take a moment to think of those who were lost on September 11, 2001. For many, it was supposed to be a normal work day, a normal flight from one place to another. For some children, it was supposed to be the start of a trip, for a few children, it was a chance to be part of an interesting program in another state. Their lives were changed forever that day, as well as the lives of all who knew and loved them. Our country was changed that day. While I think of all of those who were killed in the attacks and all of those who rose up to help (many of whom later suffered the effects both physical and mental afterward) I also give thanks to those who have taken the time to design memorials to all of our fallen. We can trace our fingers along their names, we can sit and think of them, even if they are strangers to us, and we can remember them.