Originally written May 5, 2011 – a few days after Osama Bin Laden was killed.
Helluva news week.
Here is my reaction upon learning of the successful raid: “Really? No f-ing way! Wow…” Then I went back to sleep.
Here is my reaction upon waking and seeing/hearing the news the next morning, which ranged from the celebratory to somber: gigantic lump in my throat, aware of the complexity of its source. Getting to the gym later in the morning, I sobbed for about 10 minutes, and it’s not because I will never be a size 6 – even with today’s vanity sizing.
And then came the almost immediate reaction to the reactions. The Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes. The Mark Twain quotes. The complex religious interpretations. The parsing sentences and the analyses of the difference between justice and revenge. The comparison of our celebration of the news to certain Muslim celebrations after 9/11.
It is NEVER a bad time to look to MLK, Jr. or Mark Twain for wisdom and wit. I’ve been wanting to try to put some minds at ease, though. The minds of those who are understandably concerned, rightly uncomfortable and wisely looking forward in an attempt to shape where we go from here and what we learn.
My reaction to the reaction to the reactions (reaction cubed?) is this. There are certain situations (thankfully extremely rare) in which otherwise intolerable behavior, like celebrating news of the death of another human being, is acceptable and understandable. This does not make us like them. This does not mean we value life – any life – a little less than we should.
I’d like to gently posit that there are certain people who should be allowed whatever reaction overtakes them at the moment. I count families of victims of 9/11 horrors among those people. (I think it’s interesting to note that what responses I’ve seen from the survivors is anything but raucous and celebratory. I do believe we should take our cues most strongly from them.) I count the military and families of the military who have been directly affected by the resulting wars. And then I count the citizens of any country whose national psyche had a huge gaping hole ripped out of it by this man’s actions.
The potential range of national emotions is staggering, and their expression has run the predictable gamut. Personally, I was extremely moved by the celebrators. In awe of the military and, yes, political minds that pulled this off. Glad he got what he deserved. Ashamed I was glad. Heartbroken, once again, for the families of the victims having what flimsy scars that may have formed torn open. Satisfied – oh, so deliciously satisfied – about what must have been going through Trump’s mind upon hearing the news. The irrelevance to which he will hopefully now be relegated.
I appreciate your words of caution, and your calls to reflect carefully upon what the events of the last few days mean. Especially since there are now people making noises about the use of torture in interrogations being justified – I actually find that most troubling of all and worthy of EXTREMELY close scrutiny.
I also, though, feel there are so many reasons to feel proud. Note that those visceral, jubilant celebrations lasted for less than 24 hours. Keep in mind that the tone of everything since then has been very serious. (Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert excepted, but I think we all give them a pass.) There is no parade. It’s said his body was given the proper Muslim rites of burial. Obama will not release the photos. Our administration has behaved with the utmost dignity and is setting the stage as best it can for healing.
And we have people like you asking us to be mindful of our reactions to his death and sensitive to their long-term effects – even in the face of the indescribable pain he has inflicted on so many. It is this impulse that elevates us, strengthens us and keeps us grounded. Well done. I hope you feel more at ease with each passing day.