Right after the plane hit the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, Alexandria resident Denise Wilkins was driving up to her office near the Pentagon. She had just called there to see how everyone was doing, and they replied that they had heard a boom when the plane hit.
"It was a very emotional moment, hearing people's amazement as you drove by," said Wilkins, a pastor.
Wilkins was one of many area residents attending a commemoration service at George Mason University last Wednesday, Sept. 10. The event, "An Evening of Remembrance," featured video footage of major events since 9/11, as well as a discussion by attendees on how the community could heal.
Sponsored by the Community Resilience Project of Northern Virginia, the GMU Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, Faith Communities in Action and the GMU Student Government Association, the event was fifth in a series of multicultural dialogues focusing on community rebuilding. Past discussions had included the notion of hate, building trust in times of war, and lessons learned since 2001.
"How in fact do we rebuild resilience in our families, in ourselves, and in our communities?" asked dialogue facilitator Sandra Cheldelin.
After viewing the video, which included footage of the tragedies and their aftermath at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania, the roughly 50 people attending the event split into groups to discuss three questions: what has been learned since 9/11, how have people grown as individuals and as a community, and what would be done differently if another major crisis occurred?
Responses from the room ranged from restoring neighborhood watch programs to reaching out to local Arab-Americans to getting more involved with the community.
At Wilkins' table, participants grappled with the fear that had occurred as a result of 9/11 and the need to move beyond fear into awareness and discernment.
"I feel like I've got to have a better understanding," said Fairfax resident Mary Garrity, speaking about people in other countries. "I feel that really is the path we've got to take."
Stan Maughlin of Falls Church, agreed.
"I think one thing we learned is how segregated we were, by faith communities, by race," Maughlin said.
By the end of the discussion, participants at Wilkins' table concluded that they needed to move forward with life.
"Frankly, that's not the right message," said Fairfax resident Bob Skwirot, of being afraid. "The message is, live your life, don't be afraid."
"Bad things are going to happen again. But you can't let that paralyze you," he said.