Unless you are completely cut off from the rest of the world, odds are very good that you know that Osama bin Laden is dead.
Andrew and I were getting ready for bed last night when the email alert from CNN came in, so we went back out to the living room to watch the news and the President’s speech. We grinned at each other. We kissed and hugged. We made indelicate jokes. We opened the bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel Kentucky bourbon (aged 9 years) that we had been saving for a special occasion and drank a toast. We celebrated.
Today, the world is a different place. And, as if the Earth herself were rejoicing, it’s a beautiful day here. But it is another day. My babies needed tending, groceries needed buying, and Andrew went off to work. The Earth still goes around the sun and time continues on. And, one day, likely when I least expect it and when I’m least prepared, I’m going to have to explain all of this to my sons.
And that’s a tricky one. I can’t explain how I felt and what it meant the day bin Laden died without explaining how I felt and what it meant on September 11, and all the days intervening the two. I don’t know how to adequately put into words the change that happened inside of me. I was sixteen, I was a senior in high school, the world was mine to do with as I saw fit, and I was flush with the infinite possibilities that only young people can imagine. I was living in the best of times in the best of countries, untouchable. And then, quite suddenly, it was different. Everything was different.
I will never be able to adequately explain to my children the profound grief of that day and of the days that followed it. Or of the near-decade of anger and frustration of a nation as we kept sending our young people out to defeat what could not be defeated, to continually break ourselves against misunderstanding as waves against rocks. How could I possibly put into words how we let ourselves rip ourselves apart with fear and mistrust and anger and hate, letting the wounds fester?
And then, one day, we killed the face of it. The most wanted man in the world, who had eluded us for so long, was finally dead. And something inside of my chest loosened and there was one less thing to fear in this world and the tiny spark of hope grew a little bigger inside of me that maybe this whole effort, this insatiable god of war, that we, as a nation, had been sacrificing our children to hadn’t been for a loss.
But even so, how do you justify celebrating the death of another? How do you explain why it’s okay to be pleased about this? How do you tell your children that sometimes the things that someone does are so bad, so hateful, so evil, so destructive, that that person has forfeited his place among the living? That that person gave up on being a human being?
It is not appropriate for decent people to take joy in death. John Donne wrote, “Each man’s death diminishes me, / For I am involved in mankind.” Even so, I feel no shame in celebrating that there is a little less evil in the world. I don’t want to make this an object lesson about forgiveness. And maybe at some other time I can point out something about comeuppance. But right now, really, I’m just glad he can’t hurt anyone else.