[UPDATE: I wanted to amend the entry, at the bottom, with some extra thoughts that may give a bit more explanation to my emotion at the end of the piece. These come from a comment I made to the post bellow, but not everyone reads the comments when they read the post, and these thoughts definitely flesh out some things only initially touched on]
In 1985 my grandparents won the lottery.
They didn't win a lot, and they split it with some other families, but it was still a pretty big idea. I was three-years-old. There was one thing and only one thing I really cared about in the world at three-years-old, and that was Michael Jackson. Well, probably my teddy bear, Louie, too, but mostly Michael. Michael was a mainstay in our home. Every day I insisted we listen to Thriller. I used to spend my afternoons practicing my adorable three year old dance moves, or creating stream-of-consciousness Crayola interpretive art pieces visualizing the sonic goodness I was consuming.
After all, I was three-years-old, and Michael Jackson was just about the best music I'd ever heard. Well, Michael and Madonna, of course. I was obsessed with both. But I do believe that my mom preferred Michael to Madonna anyhow, so we definitely spun that old vinyl out on the daily.
It just so happened that Thriller was on the spindle on the RCA player that night in October that a call came in at midnight.
I was asleep, of course. I'd been asleep for hours. I was three, after all, and, while I was already a party animal, I also required long recovery periods, unlike all the time since. I was off in slumberland somewhere, dreaming of hitting 54 with Bert and Ernie, or a Key West excursion with Levar Burton - I'm sure we rode a butterfly in the sky all the way there, together.
I had recently graduated to a big-boy bunk bed. It was the 80's, so of course, there were only two choices when my parents asked me what my dream big boy bed would be. Either a vegetable cart that would tip forward and gently lower me to the world when I completed my slumber (and serve as a constant reminder not to play hide-and-go-seek in refrigerators) or a bunk bed. I wasn't allowed yet to sleep on the top bunk, but we were working our way up there.
There I was in my blue velour PJs, spooning with Louie, who at this point had stopped looking so much like a Polar Bear as much as he looked like a brown bear who had a cut-rate barber, when suddenly my dad burst in my room.
I didn't know why, but for some reason there was an impromptu dance party occurring in my living room featuring my parents, an early camcorder (that thing was huge) and Michael. I didn't really care that I'd been roused from sleep. Much like whenever I'm raised early for some surprise, I went with it. I did the baby bop, and the toddler sway, the jumping jack flash, and the high kick. It was a pleasant surprise, and ever since I've always loved impromptu dance parties in the middle of the night.
So it would only follow that when my father texted me about Bin Laden...
Flash forward to late Sunday night, and my dance moves have improved some, certainly. In the middle of being hunched over my latest Database assignment - I'm in the last few moments of grad school at the moment - I started feeling extremely sleepy. As I strove hard to stay awake, suddenly a text comes in. My dad is no stranger to sending me ridiculous text messages at all hours about this or that, generally announcing a Seinfeld episode being on that I can't watch because, as I constantly remind him, I do not have TV at my house.
But my dad is straight to the point tonight. "Bin Laden is dead. President is on TV right now."
It takes a minute for something like that to sink in.
On September 12, 2001, I saw the country I'd grown up in disappear before my eyes. My friends polarized to one extreme or another. Either you were for the president or you were for the terrorists, right?
I did not lose anyone close to me in 9/11. I knew people who knew people, and since I've lost good friends to the War on Terror, but I did not personally lose anyone that day. Still, it changed me. Starting at 9:00am September 11, 2001, until mid-December, my dorm-room television remained on and remained trained on CNN. 9/11 pushed me out of the liberal closet, and forced me to form opinions on war, on the military, on defense that I'd not ever attempted to have opinions on in the past.
Overnight the country I was born in died and was replaced by some strange and crippled clone of what it had been. It was bizarre.
I protested against the Iraq war, I argued for cuts to the military budget, I moved further and further to the left on foreign policy as time went on. I wanted our troops home. I wanted the bloodshed to end.
But I have no love lost for Osama Bin Laden.
Call me bloodthirsty (I know some of you will). Call me a traitor. Call me a fake leftie. Call me what you will. My first reaction to my dad's text was a blank. But a whole lot of emotion hit me quickly. CNN was feeding the president's remarks live online, so I tuned in. Suddenly I was so proud to have voted for this man, so proud of the men and women in uniform, and so incredibly relieved and happy that this chapter is closed.
I know that this doesn't mean the war is over. For all we know it will get worse now that Al Qaeda's leadership will surely splinter further and power-grabs are now certain. It won't fix the economy, though certainly, the stock market is bound to get a boost this week on this news. The wars won't end. Unemployment won't go down. Social Security won't be saved. Climate change won't be reversed. Equality won't be won.
However, I can't help but feel a smug sense of satisfaction, and a gleeful sense of giddy relief. It may be symbolic, but in this time of pessimism and cynicism, this is a powerful psychological victory for those of us still barely hanging on to a belief that there is still a chance for America to become that beacon on the hill again; fatigued by a decade of disappointment. And then again, it may be more than symbolic.
One thing is for sure, as soon as the president was done, I put Michael on the spindle (or, rather, the iTunes) and danced like I was three-years-old again. The database can wait.
--AMENDED: I posted this as a response to some comments below, but I think it may be appropriate to include in the post, considering the depth of emotions people are experiencing today:
"I think I skipped a little logic there, because that was a very quick post, written very quickly on a very personal and complex subject.
So let me start untangling some things that got tangled up in the post. For those of us who were at a certain age in 2001--the age of enlistment--and saw many friends enlist and saw many friends change their lives forever, I think 9-11 is a very personal thing. Its been so much a part of our consciousness for the past ten years, its almost a part of our DNA at this point. It certainly informs a lot of who many of us are today. I think some of us were almost rewired that day. So here maybe I can flesh a few things out that didn't get articulated in my post.
1. I'm not sure what I was celebrating last night. Though I have no love lost for Bin Laden, frankly, I don't think I was celebrating any person's death. I happen to be against the wars. I think no person is worth more than another. But Osama Bin Laden was a person AND a symbol, and that symbol means very different things for everyone. For some people he's a symbol of a culture they see as evil. For some he's a symbol of war and violence. For me (and this is really boiling it down to its simplest), he's a symbol of a paradigm shift in our nation that I always resented. It sounds fake and insincere, I'm sure, to say such a thing--that I was glad to see this happen because he represents the nastiness in discourse and blind patriotism that infected our public consciousness after 9-11, but there it is. Honest and plain truth. I can't articulate it fully, but I was glad to see the death of that concept last night.
2. I'm not sure we can really expect any tangible good to come from this. Sometimes we're just selfish. We're human beings. We aren't automatons. We have intellect and emotion, and they live next to one another in the same grey squishy organ up in our skull. Try as we want to separate them, or keep the intellect guiding the emotions, none of us can say we're masters of our feelings all the time. I own my joy and relief from last night--and I certainly agree its inappropriate to dance on someone's grave. But last night my intellect took a nap, and my emotions had run of the roost. And this morning, I still feel just as relieved as last night. Does this event do any real good for me, for my country, or for the world? I have no clue. And that's why its difficult to articulate exactly what it is I am relieved about. But it is, as they say, what it is.
3. I am certainly in support of anyone who was turned off by the celebration last night, even as I make no apologies for my own celebration. Like I said above, however, I don't see 9-11 as something that happened to America so much, anymore, as I see it as something that happened to each of us individually to various degrees of intensity, and in very different ways over a decade. I didn't know anyone who died on 9-11, but I know people who have since died in the wars that followed. And those men died at different times in my life, and were of different degrees of closeness. Each of those events colors and bends my experience with the event, and by extension, the symbol that is Osama Bin Laden that I described above. Certainly there are going to be many very dangerous and invalid reactions that we should avoid. However, at the same time, I think it also means that the spectrum of what we can consider a valid reaction is broad and deep.
You may not agree with the points I've posited above, but this is my view from where I'm at right now. What we all can agree with is that we all experienced those events of 10 years ago very differently, and we're all going to react to this news in equally as varied of ways. Its difficult to boil down to a few words what is prudent on a day like today, when it is so wrapped up in nuance and personal experience for a billion individuals worldwide. "