Monday, May 02, 2011


I received 4 texts, 2 emails, and a phone call last night from friends and family who were overwhelmed with relief at the news of Osama bin Laden's death.

Then, for the next two hours, my phone turned pinball machine as Facebook status updates and tweets poured in.

But me, I still couldn't formulate a single thought.

To be honest, I actually didn't feel anything when I first heard the news.  It was the fall of an evil nihilistic human being, yes.  The end of a decade-long search, for certain.  The period at the end of the sentence for an iconic global terrorist, absolutely.  And the death of someone's son, grandson, sibling, cousin, and friend.  But the fact that he was suddenly, willfully and brutally erased from the earth didn't change the way I felt...about anything.

I mean, as a society, we're already so desensitized to death, and violence, and war, as it is.  And so I think because of the unbelievable weight of human suffering and misery that we're faced with daily on the news, in our own lives, on the streets, that we must, as emotionally driven human beings, find a place to put that in order to even be able to get out of bed in the morning.

After the horrible tragedies of 9-11, in particular, the only way we as parents could ever step out of our homes again was to compartmentalize those feelings somehow, while still finding a way to simultaneously manage to remain sympathetic to everyone's suffering and still be and raise a compassionate forgiving race of people.

But once you do that, once you put that away and bury it beneath the surface, tucked neatly beneath the illusion of orange safety alerts and heightened security screening, it's not always so easy to flip that switch again. Especially if you were fortunate enough to not have been personally affected, and then walk around with this guilty need to apologize for the fact that you've been fortunate enough to not have been personally affected all these years since.

So, I think it honestly took me a few hours to allow myself to fully recall the memories, where I was when I first heard about the towers, what it felt like watching it on TV that morning, hearing my brother's voice first thing as we listened to each other breathe on the phone while we stared in horror at the screen.  The perpetual lump in my throat that's rising again today.  How I was completely unable to tear myself away from the news reports for the next five days. Unable to concentrate on anything else. Uncertain of my own future. Terrified suddenly of the whole entire world and every single person in it.

And yet, here we are, almost 10 years later.  A little more cautious, a lot more patriotic, but still a strong, surviving, thriving community of people with varying backgrounds, spiritual beliefs, political convictions, and controversies.  But we're still here.  It was a horrific moment in history.  But we're still here.  We lost so many, so soon, and so unnecessarily.  But we're still here.  And I guess that that's what I'm most focused on today. I'm most proud of the way our country came back after September 11.  The way that everyone, despite our differences, found a way to move forward, united and divided all at once.  That THAT was what made us the greatest superpower in the world.

Not this.  Definitely not this.

And while I do know how much the certainty of his absence from this world brings closure, and peace, and a tangible sense of vengeance for so many, his death really means nothing to me.  No, actually, that's not true.  The news of any death is a horrible thing. But death at the hands of another, for me, is always always so much worse. 

No arrest? No trial? No evidence? No justice? Just licensed vigilanteism and dancing around the stuck pig. In a time of war, especially, it's a blurry line that crosses the grey space between a legal and an illegal action. Did he deserve to be judged for he did? Without a doubt.  Did he deserve to die? That's not for me to decide. Nor you.  But it's kind of a done deal now.  So, that's that. Or is it?

The terror threat has not changed.  Evil still exists.  We are in a perpetual state of war.  And the fact that we have now martyred and elevated him to the level of Hitler or Stalin only ensures his immortality, just as our gloating ensures we will taunt his minions into retaliation.

And where's the grey line now?

So, as I woke the kiddos up at 6:30 this morning, I knew I had to find a way to explain what had just happened, that there would be kids celebrating his death on the playground, that he would become a punchline to jokes, that his name would suddenly be on the lips of my children, too.  And while everyone grumbled about it being Monday and how the weekend was never long enough, I watched as they stretched their perfectly healthy limbs, and yawned with their strong lungs, and slid their well-fed and well-clothed bodies out from under their warm blankets under their free sky, and all I could feel was this vacuous sense of guilt for having been born so lucky.  And what the weight of that responsibility actually meant.

So, sitting with them on their beds, I began to retell the story of 9-11, reminding them of who bin Laden was, what he had done, and the legacy he had left behind.  I talked about all the people who lost their lives that day and since, and all those who lost their loved ones because of it. And then I told them that bin Laden had been killed by our military.  And I waited.

And the only thing Santiago said was, "Oh. Then that's good...and bad."

And that was exactly what I needed to hear.

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