Nearly forty-eight hours on from the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had finally met his decade-in-the-making demise, I think I can safely say that I’ve climbed off the emotional roller coaster and have my feet squarely back on the ground about it all. Before 9/11, I never really understood the cliché “where were you when ‘x’ happened/died?” Blame it on chronology: by the time I was born, John F. Kennedy was already entombed in the history books, and when Richard Nixon resigned, I probably wasn’t on solid foods yet. Looking back on it, folks roughly my age (mid-thirties as of this writing) lived a relatively charmed, national/global tragedy-deficient life until just under one decade ago.
I consider that a true blessing. I was of the very last generation to be able to jump the turnstile with impunity, to use an appropriately Noo Yawk metaphor, and have access to a far less security-conscious Manhattan as a dumb twenty-something. My memories of finding myself in NYC “after the last train” feature all sorts of colorful characters, but they do not contain soldiers in camouflage with machine guns. For this, I am extremely grateful; such adventures shaped who I grew up to be down to my very core, but please don’t take this as some sort of “things were better in my day, sonny” screed. I feel truly sorry for folks a bit younger than me who never got to fly straight at the stars in a sky that was far more widescreen, sharper, and less heavily armed. I say that without a single drop of condescension.
To invoke another cliché, the entire world did change on 9/11. I feel like I’ve relived the whole thing in my memory in the last two days; it had been ages since I thought of the fighter planes that passed over my house that afternoon, flying so low and fast that they literally shook the foundation. Nor had I thought much of the procession of fire vehicles that ran like the world’s darkest parade down route 87 into Manhattan, passing mere blocks from here. I don’t know about the word “heroes” anymore; since 9/11, I think its overuse has degraded its value, but it belongs – and at full price, to boot – to every last responder on that day and the weeks that followed. I remember being unable, almost afraid, to turn off the TV, lest some important bit of information be the next thing to scroll around the ticker at the bottom of the screen. Might as well leave it on, then; the nightmares were guaranteed either way.
Obviously, few if any of us are living like that anymore, even before President Obama’s historic announcement. It’s not that things ever went back to normal; instead, we just learned to incorporate a lack of normalcy into our daily routine and, in time, stopped noticing it so much. We simply, slowly, convinced ourselves that those armed guards on the subways and in the transportation hubs were always part of the fabric, and that the lines at the airport were always like that. In this case, there’s nothing at all wrong with a bit of revisionism: if tricking ourselves a bit made it possible for us to turn off the television and get back out in the world, then so be it. At least we’d found a way back into our lives which, until Sunday, had found their own sort of post-normal rhythm.
To be honest, I long ago gave up hope that Sunday’s announcement would ever come. After years of “mission accomplished” drivel from Bush, I just became a bit numb to it all. Even amidst all of Obama’s promises of hope and change, I honestly felt that too much time had elapsed, that Bin Laden had become too ensconced wherever he was for us to ever find him. He was evil incarnate, but he was also clearly not an unintelligent man; I just figured that eight years of Bumbling Bush had given him plenty of time to build the perfect hidey-hole, and that was that.
The fact that Obama was the guy to pull this off still has me floored, quite frankly. Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute: his presidency before Sunday was not exactly defined by the sort of decisive victories that would lead anyone to believe he had something of this magnitude and fortitude in him. We are, after all, talking about a man who had difficulty passing his agenda uncompromised back when his party had total control in Washington, never mind the constant gridlock that has reigned supreme since the Democrats lost that control. Somehow, though, he managed to rise above all of that and finally deliver on his campaign rhetoric in a huge, resounding manner: a world without Bin Laden is, in fact, change I can believe in. Regardless of your or my feelings on Obama before this past Sunday, he deserves a major amount of respect. At the very least, I would think that any patriotic American should be proud to call him a citizen right now.
In a flash, late on a Sunday night as much of the east coast was contemplating bed, Barack Obama earned and received an unprecedented re-boot. I truly hope he makes the most of it: honestly, the kind of guy who could pull this sort of mission off is the kind of guy I want as Commander in Chief. If he can take this swagger and this ability and run with it for the remainder of his term, I can absolutely see this country beginning to turn around in a big, bad way in that time. On behalf of sane citizens who care more about results than party allegiances and rhetoric, I implore him to make the most of this stunning opportunity. Speaking only for myself, he has my attention and respect in a way he hasn’t since the run-up to his election, if even then.
In that same Sunday night flash, we as a country were also given a re-boot. While it’s a given that the world will never be the same as it was when we went to bed on September 10th, 2001, perhaps this is our chance to take one small step back in that direction, an opportunity to forge a new world using some of the great material left over from the old one. The man who orchestrated the worst assault on American soil, and who has taunted us ever since its execution, is dead and fitfully dumped in the ocean. Am I naive enough to believe that this means we’re safe now and that everything can just go back to normal? Not hardly. Will there ever be such a thing as true closure for those who lost loved ones as a result of the attacks? Not even remotely. Having acknowledged all of that, do I believe that the sky, in the last two days, has gotten a few units wider and brighter once again? Absolutely, and what a fine sight it is.