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    by Mary Beth Ellis
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Last week I read that some 300 people who were lost in the World Trade Center have never officially been found.  I don't mean remains that families could bury; I mean one single solitary molecule of DNA matter to prove the person had ever been here at all.

That's not at all true for the loved ones they left behind, of course.  But scientifically speaking, 300 people simply vanished from the face of the Earth, leaving behind even less matter than the pinprick of space they occupied when they were first conceived.

Partially because I don't think I'll have children, this is one of my fears; I'll pass through this world, I'll buy bags of baby carrots and type in this little white box and watch the sun slant over the neighbor's driveway, but in the end it really won't matter at all.  I am ordinary.  I will end.  I will leave a few wisps of embroidery floss in my wake, but these will be swept into forgetfulness, and another hack writer steps in, someone else presses a sweaty back to the mat on the gym floor.

These selfish qualms, however, are answered by the passengers of Flight 93.  I will never understand why the Shanksville flight is often the least-mentioned of 9/11--perhaps because it lacks the dramatic footage and numbing death toll of the World Trade Center destruction or the high, infuriating symbolism of the Pentagon crash.  Shanksville is an utterly new battleground, the likes of which this nation has never seen--the first civilian American blood purposely shed for a military purpose.  We have had Minutemen and regiments from Georgia and conscripted car mechanics shipped off to Okinawa, but these men had guns and powder and training and at least something of a choice in the matter.  But these--they were grandmothers and arborists and bartenders.  And they saved the Capitol.

You know how they did it? 

By being ordinary.

They did ordinary things.  They called their loved ones and left messages on answering machines.  They asked about what was on TV.  They looked at each other across the dark, calm print of the seatbacks and said, "Listen-- you have to know what I just heard."  If someone had a phone and a seatmate did not, the handset was shared.  A Verizon dispatcher spoke aloud the Psalm that death row chaplains and preachers are always praying in the movies-- the 23rd.  They leaned up against a food service trolley and asked for a vote, for a show of hands.  One of the flight attendants boiled water.  Ordinary things.

And there is no question of whether or not they ever existed.

when altitude is not important at:  mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (9)

Those are mighty deep thoughts, well said. Thanks for expressing it so beautifully. Thanks; truths.

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma McF

I've always wondered what I would have done if I had been on Flight 93. I like to think that I could step up to the plate and do what needed to be done, but sometimes I wonder, I really do... . I salute all the victims and heroes on that day for being ordinary...and showing how sometimes just how extraordinary that can be.

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpointyhead

Thanks, MB. Well said. What a good way to remember those folks! Oddly enough, Lois and I were at a wedding on Saturday... and so life goes on. What a wedding date!

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim Hunter

For what it's worth, Flight 93 did get a movie first. And http://marchandchronicles.blogspot.com/2006/04/lets-role.html" rel="nofollow">it was tremendous.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeremiah Hunter, Mary Beth Ellis. Mary Beth Ellis said: Extraordinary: http://wp.me/pc73N-LE [...]

Hi MaryBeth.......
I'm in awe of this. I just had to let you know. One of my third grade gifted students brought me a poster she decided to make over the weekend of the anniversary of 9/11. It was all about the twin towers and the Pentagon, and it was meticulously done, and she was very proud of it.......and when I asked her how long it took her to make, she said, "Oh, about seven hours. More time than it took for all those people to die."
I just want you to know that the next generation hasn't lost sight of the sacrifice ordinary people make.
This student's on to her next project.....a poster about Flight 93.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWiserlemming

By the way, I can't remember which name I use when I post comments on here....my usual screen name of Wiserlemming, or my real name: Neysa.
I've been commenting off an on for years now.......remember when I asked you about my third graders who love to write? I have another class of serious writers! If you have any advice for them, I'd be glad to share it with them. A few actually want to write like you do. One wants to teach writing in college. I don't have the heart to tell her about "the stack"......all those papers that await her in the future.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWiserlemming

I know a woman whose father was on Flight 93. I try, but it's almost impossible for me to imagine what it is like to lose a loved one that way. Thank you for this beautiful reflection.

September 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGinny

Thanks, Wiser. You have such awesome students. What do they struggle with the most in writing? 'Cause otherwise I'll just tell them to not suck, and I don't think that'll help much.

September 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMB
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