The places directly linked to 9/11 can seem so distant from our own surroundings here in the Wabash Valley.
New York City dwarfs Terre Haute. It has more of everything: Nicknames — “The Big Apple,” “The City That Never Sleeps,” “Empire City,” “Gotham,” “The City So Nice They Named It Twice.” People — 8.1 million, the most populous metro in America. Diversity — 800 different languages are spoken there. While standing in a Midtown Manhattan clothing store, you can encounter more native tongues than on the Rosetta Stone shelf at the local bookstore.
The iconic stone structures dotting the skyline of Washington, D.C., give the capital city an unparalleled stately feel. The president and Congress serve where Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt once did.
The rolling mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania, where signs warn visitors of bears, possess an awesome level of undisturbed natural wild.
Yet, it shouldn’t be so hard for folks in the Wabash Valley to relate to those in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa., where hijackers crashed commercial airliners in a strategic terrorist attack on America on Sept. 11, 2001, claiming nearly 3,000 lives. When viewed in their most local sense, those places aren’t so different. New York’s financial district — the sector of Lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers once stood — is home to 56,000 residents, quite close to Terre Haute’s 60,000. An average of 23,000 people work daily inside the Pentagon in Washington. About 28,000 people work in Terre Haute. And, Shanksville — a town with a population of 250 — would look familiar to people in Prairieton or Hutsonville, Ill., with a volunteer fire department, a country store, a school, a post office and a few churches.
Within that context, we can wonder what it would be like to walk in their shoes over the past decade.
More so, we can appreciate the strength they’ve shown in the difficult process of healing, recovering and remembering.
The designs of the permanent memorials in New York and Shanksville, for example, sparked vigorous debates over the symbolic elements. New York spent years arguing about the appropriateness of rebuilding skyscrapers at the site of the destroyed World Trade Center. In the end, the city decided to create four new towers, anchored by the 1,776-foot-tall 1 World Trade Center (its former name, the “Freedom Tower,” was another source of controversy). Those should be done by 2016. Today, the first portion of the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum opens in the footprints of the former Twin Towers. (The museum debuts in 2012.) The U.S. National Park Service unveiled the Flight 93 National Memorial on Saturday. (The Pentagon Memorial opened with little furor in 2008.)
The freedom to argue so publicly, yet peacefully, distinguishes this nation from the extremists who assaulted the United States on 9/11.
Our neighbors in those “communities” hit that morning suffered wounds, but were not defeated. People not only began returning to their jobs in New York’s financial district, but more of them actually chose to live there; its population has doubled since 2001. Washington’s tourism has risen since then to a peak of 17.3 million visitors last year. And Shanksville has admirably maintained a network of volunteers to assist Flight 93 Memorial visitors that hasn’t waned or disappeared over the intervening 10 years.
The post-9/11 years have brought pain, through two wars and deep economic recession. Americans coast to coast have been touched by those troubles, through lost jobs, loved ones serving in the armed forces, home foreclosures and more. But the ability to rebound shown by the people of New York, Washington and Shanksville should inspire confidence that brighter days are ahead.