Reflections On Shanksville And Sept. 11

Sometimes when journalists start out working on a story they're expecting one thing and then they find something entirely different. That's what happened to NPR's Libby Lewis at the Sept. 11 crash site in Shanksville, Pa., this week.


One great thing about journalism: a story can start out as one thing, then you discover it's really something else. NPR's Libby Lewis shares that lesson in this Reporter's Notebook.

LIBBY LEWIS: I went to Shanksville, Pennsylvania to do a story on the memorial being planned to honor the people who died on United Flight 93. I tracked down Debbie Borsa(ph) to helped guide me. Her daughter, Diora Bawdly(ph), was on the plane and Borsa has been very involved in planning the memorial. Many of the stories about it have focused on controversy. Controversy doesn't bother Debbie Borsa's outlook.

Ms. DEBBIE BORSA: Welcome to America. For me it takes all points of view in order to have it be a special place.

LEWIS: One of the family members has complained the architect's design for the area around the crash site resembles an Islamic crescent. Some conservative bloggers have fueled the flames of that on the Internet. There are other controversies, mostly about land and money. Borsa agreed to meet me in Shanksville to walk the site and talk about the memorial.

It was only when I met her and spent time with her that I began to think about what a memorial really is. A memorial is something meant to preserve the memory of something or someone, and it struck me Debbie Borsa is living her life that way as a memorial to her daughter. That came clear when she met Jack Strong(ph) and his family in Shanksville. They were visiting from Ohio.

Ms. BORSA: My name is Debbie. This is how you remember me. I'm Diora's mom.

LEWIS: She answered painful questions about her daughter and took the Strongs down to the crash site, where her daughter's remains and those of the others are in the trees, the grass, the soil. She wanted them to be there, up close. Jack Strong told Borsa she has change the way that he will think about 9/11 forever. Later, after the Strongs had gone, Borsa admitted there's a part of her that wants only to put up a 12-foot electrical fence around the crash site.

Ms. BORSA: So that when I go there I can be myself and anyone who shows up, go away, there's nothing here to see. There's that. And then I go, great, and then I die. And then it truly is forgotten.

LEWIS: So Debbie Borsa has chosen a different path. And writing about her path, I wrote a story on a memorial, after all. It's just not one made of stone or glass or trees.

SIMON: NPR's Libby Lewis.

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