We celebrate the day feasting. Bar-b-que grills fire up all over the country and plates are filled with picnic food galore – everything from hotdogs to watermelon. Enthusiastic backyard games of softball, volleyball, and badminton continue throughout the day.
Marching parades wind through hometown streets, and there may be patriotic speeches or concerts in other areas. Everyone’s attire includes red, white, and blue while Old Glory waves from the front porch flagpole. Stars and stripes bedeck buildings and houses.
The sound of firecrackers pops through the air and as dusk commences its descent on the day’s activities, everyone jumps in the car in search of an awesome fireworks display to ooh and aah over in the summertime night sky.
It’s the way we Americans commemorate the fourth of July, our Independence Day. It’s the way our family usually celebrates too. But not this year.
Since the fourth landed on a mid-week day and almost everyone in our family only had that one day off, we couldn’t celebrate the holiday together due to work schedules and distance.
The newlyweds now live in the state south of us and son lives in the state next door. Only oldest daughter lives close by, in the city. She arrived at the homestead Tuesday night with a great idea for how the three of us – Mama, Papa, and Daughter – could spend the day on the fourth.
She suggested a day trip. A couple years after the 9-11 attacks, we visited Flight 93’s crash site in Shanksville, PA on our way to the Outer Banks, North Carolina for vacation. Oldest daughter, who had just graduated from college and started her new job, was unable to accompany us on that trip.
At the time, only a makeshift memorial existed in honor of the Americans who lost their lives in the quiet Pennsylvania farmland that infamous day. Now there is a permanent memorial at the site and our daughter wanted to see it, especially because she’d missed our previous visit there.
Since the area is an easy drive from our home, we decided to venture there and then meander around to see what other sights we might encounter.
Years ago when we visited the crash site, I wept when I stepped out of the car. This time tears did not fall, but the sense of solemnity in this peaceful, serene place where terror struck so vividly engulfed me.
Gone was the makeshift chain link fence serving as a memorial wall with mementos lodged in it, including a local firefighter’s coat. In its place a beautifully designed tribute exists. Gazing out at the field of grass and wildflowers, it’s almost unfathomable to imagine the violence of that day.
We weren’t the only ones who decided to spend a few moments on Independence Day visiting the Flight 93 Memorial Park. Vehicles filled the parking area, yet there was hushed silence among those of us who walked the grounds.
On a hot, summer day, we read the informative placards, we viewed the area where the plane went down, we walked silently to the memorial where we read the names of those who lost their lives, we noted the mementos left in honor, and we sat on a bench quietly contemplating and remembering the day life changed for all of us Americans. In the silence, it seemed our country’s flag provided a form of taps as it flapped in the gentle breeze.
It was a fitting way to celebrate Independence Day and the freedom we treasure in the United States of America, to remember that freedom isn’t free, and to understand that sometimes the cost of freedom is extremely high and painful. But freedom is worth the cost.
“Where liberty dwells, there is my country.” ~ attributed to Benjamin Franklin
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