Memorializing When We Mourn

Friday, September 11, 2015 - 3:24 pm
Siobhan O'Riordan

It’s an ever-clear sky today. Just as it was in 2001. And yet ever-clear and jet trails slicing September blue-skies then are now reminders, important ones, of the events of 9/11 and the losses and learnings we have experienced since.

Reminders of those we mourn can help us grieve.  Public memorials serve to both remind us who we mourn – may we never forget – and the very ideals we collectively honor.  While beacons of light illuminate an ever-shifting New York skyline, there is another memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania that has its own story. 

Flight 93 was diverted from its path towards the U.S. Capitol by passengers and a crew, unknown to each other, who heroically took steps that sealed their own fate while saving thousands of others.  Today, 14 years later, the abandoned coal mine where the plane crashed is now a memorial that tells their story – our story – due to the support of philanthropy.

I was honored to work for a time with the family members, neighbors and others impacted by Flight 93, the National Park Service and National Park Foundation who came together to create the Flight 93 Memorial, a designated national park site.  The design and building of this memorial – including the just opened learning center -- was funded by private dollars, small contributions by individuals, larger contributions from foundations, corporations and others. 

While there was an outpouring of initial support, the work of creating a memorial is not an easy task and the story of the memorial for Flight 93 was no different.  The families, park service, foundation staff, board members, neighbors and many others asked themselves the hardest of questions. 

·         How do we memorialize when we mourn?

·         How do we both understand the enormity of a moment and honor the individuality of those involved?

·         How do we agree not to compromise but to elevate the very lessons, for now and forever? 

The questions we ask when memorializing what matters are not so very differ from the questions we ask in philanthropy.

·         How do we understand change but support the individuals who know who to address it? 

·         How do we prioritize the many demands and meet the ones where we can elevate for greater impact? 

·         How can we invest in what works both for today and for tomorrow? 

And yet, like those who built the memorial, it is not in the questions but in the promise of philanthropy that we find the answers. 

So what is the promise of philanthropy? It is that by giving we receive. 

Today there is a memorial that philanthropy made happen.  A memorial that beautifully honors the heroic passengers and crew members on Flight 93 and provides each of us with a way to connect to our shared history, a moment in time and each other.  A gift for which I am ever grateful. 

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