Thursday, July 07, 2011

Angel Clouds and Rainbows

by Paula Matter

 My annual tribute is early this year because a guest will be blogging in two weeks. The following was originally posted two years ago.

There are times I remember precisely where I was when a legendary event happened. The following are most prevalent and come to my mind readily:

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Robert Kennedy's assassination

Dwight D. Eisenhower's death

Neil Armstrong's landing on the moon

John Lennon's assassination

Challenger explosion

September 11, 2001

Huge emotional events that effected America, the nation, the world.

I never experienced a profound tragedy firsthand.

Until July 17, 1996.

If you live in my small, quiet borough, you'll know that date. It's forever etched in our minds, our hearts. Thirteen years ago tomorrow, we lost 16 high school students and five adult chaperones in the TWA Flight 800 crash.

For days, weeks, months after this tragedy, our tiny town mourned. As a community we stuck together as we attended funeral after funeral after funeral.

And we endured.

The angel visited us in the evening of July 21, 1996. She appeared as a cloud over the high school, and lingered long enough for many to see her.

Twenty-one smaller white clouds appeared at the angel's feet, at first in a circle, then formed two straight rows.

The first of many rainbows also appeared that evening. Two beautiful rainbows arched over us until the sun set.

It wasn't unusual to hear reports of more rainbows suddenly appearing. They were spotted at soccer games, track meets, swim meets.

One month after the crash, on August 17, 1996, we held a community memorial. Thousands of people gathered in the high school football field. Minutes before the service started, a gorgeous rainbow appeared. Those of us who live here weren't surprised, and we were happy to share it with so many others. The rainbow disappeared five minutes or so after the service ended.

Closure and comfort came in other ways too. Finally, after six very long weeks, the last body from our town was recovered and brought home. I remember that day well. A customer told me, "They found her." And we cried together.

On July 17, 1999, the Memorial Park opened on the grounds of the high school. I went there a few days ago to take new photos to share with you.

The names of our town's twenty-one victims.

This ceramic angel sits on the base.

Our angel.

Engraving on one side.

Surrounded by twenty-one maple trees,
our angel stands.
Forever in our hearts.


C.L. Phillips said...

Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful tribute. May your words touch each heart that reads this post.


Jenna said...

I get chills every year. Lovely!

Paula Matter said...

Thanks, C.L and Jenna! xo

Erika said...

I just saw this on Twitter (and retweeted it) today. A 1996 Montoursville grad, I always fear that one of these years, someone will forget; someone will think maybe it's not important anymore to pay tribute to the ones we lost. Thank you for remembering. They were worth remembering.

Paula Matter said...

Oh, Erika, I'm so glad you commented. Hard to believe it'll soon be 15 years. I believe they'll never be forgotten. As you wrote, they were worth remembering.