I was in class when the attacks happened in 2001. When I got home from school, their were frantic messages on my answering machine from my mother, thinking that planes were going to crash on top of my apartment. I calmed her down, but thinking that she was crazy. Planes? It took me about a minute of listening to NPR to realize what was going on, and that mother might not be that crazy after all. I bring this up because I went to the Pentagon Memorial today.
It’s very quiet there. You could hear a feather land on one of those benches. Here is how it is laid out. The benches either point towards the Pentagon or away from it. If it points towards, that means the bench represents someone on the plane. If it points away, it was someone in the Pentagon. That way, you can see the name of the person that died at the Pentagon and see the Pentagon in the same view. The benches are organized by ages, each row representing a year, and the year is carved into stone on the edge of the memorial. Each bench has the name of the victim ingrain into the side of the bench, with water flowing under each bench. A woman came up to a guard while I was there.
“Tranquility,” he said. She looked like she just figured out the meaning of the world, and smiled with approval.
It is nice there. I like it. We can go back and forth about the reasons of the attacks, about the people who organized the attacks, about our country’s responds to the attacks. But people died that day. A lot of people died that thought they were just going to work or going on a trip. You shouldn’t have to think about dying every day. You shouldn’t have to worry about it. More than anything, that is what was taken from us. We weren’t able to think that we were above or beyond the problems of the world. We aren’t allowed to be on the sidelines. I’ve been doing this too much, recognizing when and where the world changed. Sitting at the memorial, looking at the benches, it is hard not to understand that history happens in seconds, and lingers with us like an untouchable ache in the cracks of our bones.
What shock me as I was leaving. There was a huge swath of gravel between most of the benches and one bench set by itself. That bench was in the row meant to represent 1998. She was three years old. Take care of yourselves.