Last fall, my family and I visited the Flight 93 Memorial Park in Shanksville, Pa. My son, an airplane enthusiast and student of 9/11 history, suggested it.

Everything about the park is a reminder of September 11, 2001—from the Tower of Voices to the Wall of Names to the indoor exhibits with artifacts and recordings. For those of us who lived through that morning on the East Coast, it’s akin to traveling back in time. For those who weren’t alive yet, it’s a history lesson about a day that permanently altered the United States.

I was a reporter in the D.C. area, commuting to work when I heard Peter Jennings discussing the towers ablaze in New York, thanks to the TV function on my Walkman. Soon after, my bus driver shouted that the Pentagon, a few minutes from my apartment, had been attacked.

America slipped into a tailspin. Scores of people fled the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. New York firefighters charged into and up the smoke-choked stairwells of the towers; their colleagues in D.C. swarmed the Pentagon. Thousands darted from their offices on Capitol Hill. A plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, voices on radio and TV struggled to make sense of it all.

In rapid succession, U.S. airspace was sealed, the towers fell, and a section of our top military fortress crumbled. Later, the president, who had spent the day scrambling around the country aboard Air Force One, returned to the White House. (For a more detailed account, see my 2021 piece on the twentieth anniversary of the attacks.)

As my roommate and I walked around Georgetown that evening, two things struck me: the tanks and their armed guards stationed at intervals along D.C. streets, and the utter quiet. Far from a sense of calm, the quiet was unsettling. Cities are supposed to be noisy. That’s especially true in Washington. People inside the Beltway love to hear themselves talk. No words could express the depth of what we lost that day. In many ways, they still can’t.

description of the Flight 93 Memorial’s Tower of Voices might come close: “The Tower of Voices is conceived as a monumental, ninety-three feet tall musical instrument holding forty wind chimes, representing the forty passengers and crew members. The intent is to create a set of forty tones (voices) that can connote through consonance the serenity and nobility of the site while also through dissonance recalling the event that consecrated the site.”

 The Tower of Voices

Consonance is agreement. Dissonance is discord. September 11 was about both. As grim and wrenching as the day was, the aftermath saw a coalescing we haven’t known again.

These days, America is drowning in dissonance. Evil appears to have the upper hand. Our great nation, the planet’s last best hope, is teetering. Journalism, my former full-time profession, lacks centrist reporters. Most inject the news with their political persuasion and personal biases. They shrink from important questions, withhold information, and cast stories in the same (often inaccurate) light, day after day. They’ve lost the trust of most of the American public, save for a select audience that thinks as they do.

Courage is in short supply. So is the consonance our country desperately needs to flourish. Yet, there are encouraging flashes of both.

A friend recently intervened in a mugging in Midtown Manhattan. In the middle of rush hour, he and his colleagues hurried to stop the assailant, who had shoved a woman to the ground. Though the perpetrator clutched the woman’s bag, he denied any wrongdoing. They detained him and summoned the police, but officers never surfaced. Obliged to let him go, they were grateful that the mugger didn’t have a weapon, and that they had saved the woman from further harm.

We need more good Samaritans to intervene and do the right thing. That goes for journalists, too. Courage to push back, to tell the truth, has never been more important.

We should be heartened by the courage exemplified on 9/11, by both the survivors and those who perished. The forty passengers and crew on United Flight 93 fought against the hijackers, saving the U.S. Capitol and the many lives in and around the building.

On the twenty-first anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history, may we reflect on the courage of our predecessors, ever seeking wisdom, and in a quest to find a better balance between consonance and dissonance.

The sacred ground where forty passengers and crew perished on September 11, 2001. Their courage in thwarting the hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93 saved an attack on the U.S. Capitol and an untold number of lives.

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