Sunday, May 1, 2011

Osama bin Laden is Dead

There was no dramatic jet landing on an aircraft carrier. No “Mission Accomplished” banner. No cheering servicemen. No pomp or circumstance of any sort. There was just a slender, solemn Hawaiian man walking down an empty hallway and up to a podium to tell the world, to tell the United States, to tell New York City, to tell me that Osama bin Laden was dead.

It is very rare that life happens at a magnitude that is beyond my capacity to emotionally process it. This was one of those moments; one that transcended immediacy. This moment was over a decade in the making and it needed time to marinate, time to breathe and open up, like an old Bordeaux. This moment was not just now. This was the past…and the future.

I watched as Obama recounted the manner in which bin Laden had been killed and I struggled to keep my attention on the present. ‘This is history asshole, pay attention,’ I told myself. But my mind danced forward and backwards and sideways at the same time.

‘This should insure a second term for Obama’ I thought before nudging myself back to this historic presidential address. ‘Maybe now he’ll have the clout to rally the public behind his health care bill and a long-term fiscal strategy that keeps Medicare and Medicaid in tact.’ Then I would snap back to the now and Obama would be saying something about predator drones. And I’d grin because that term just sounds really fucking cool.

As he veered into a section about how for a decade, bin Laden was the one Al Qaeda leader that kept evading us, I hop-scotched back to the past and my hatred for George W. Bush was fresh again. I could feel it, almost taste it. Motherfucker. All this happened on his watch. And my moronic fucking countrymen re-elected him because the Democratic Party couldn’t come up with a more likable option than John fucking Kerry…with his long face and weird wife. Fuck. Goddamn fucking W. We had bin Laden in the caves of Tora Bora but he got away because of W’s ill-conceived Iraqi oil campaign. Stupid Texan born-again Christian cocksmoker.

Then I realized that my self-indulgent festival of rage was causing me to miss history so once again, I returned to the address. I try to stay present. 'Listen to him. Hear him. Take this in. This is closure. This is what you’ve always wanted and needed.'

And I realize the potency of this unequivocal truth. I have always fought for closure in my life whenever it was remotely attainable. I like my issues neatly packaged and wrapped up with a pretty little bow on them. It gives me some semblance of control, of certitude and of comfort in a chaotic and utterly uncontrollable world.

Maybe this night will give me what has always eluded me and the many New Yorkers that woke up on September 12th 2001 in a very different city in a very frightening world. I didn’t lose anyone on that day. But my world was radically altered and my worldview was profoundly tarnished.

I found myself afraid in a way I had never known; looking quickly upward every time I heard a plane passing overhead. I found my perception of humanity irreparably harmed; having never even fathomed people capable of doing such horrible things right here in my city. I also found myself asking questions I had never asked before. Awful questions.

Have you ever asked yourself what you would do to Osama bin Laden if you were alone with him in a room without windows in a world without consequence? Have you ever really asked yourself and honestly answered yourself? I have. I have for the past decade. And the answers always have and continue to frighten me. But I cannot deny them. 

And New Yorkers cannot deny them. The proof is in the crowds that gathered in Times Square and at Ground Zero late into Sunday night and early into Monday morning. The proof was in the hugs, the high fives, the tears, cheers, singing and chanting. We could not deny what we wanted.

We wanted that motherfucker dead. We needed that motherfucker dead.

So now what? What do we do now? We have permission to move forward, to let go of the past but can we? It’s not always such an easy task, is it? Hatred, anger, despair, a thirst for vengance…these things can get really familiar. They can become a part of us. They can envelop us like a warm blanket. They can start to feel like home.

So maybe we will not close the book on this. Maybe closure is only something that applies to cute little problems like breaking up with a girlfriend or forgiving your parents for not being perfect. Maybe we can just press on and let our anger evolve into whatever it is that we need it to become. Maybe it’ll turn into gratitude or unity. Maybe it’ll help us get our military out of Afganistan and Iraq. Maybe it’ll trigger the disintegration of Al Qaeda. Or maybe it’ll spark a revival.

I don’t know. I really don’t. And as tears stream down my cheeks, I can’t even tell you what I’m feeling. Relief? Hope? Sadness? Joy? I don’t fucking know man. But I like it. And judging by the crowds in the streets, New York likes it. And maybe that’s all that matters.

Maybe that’s all we need right now. A reason to get together. A reason to high-five a stranger. A reason to chant ‘U.S.A.’ A reason to feel just a little bit better about that horrible day. A reason to believe that those 2,996 people did not die in vain. A reason to hope. Maybe that’s it. We needed a reason to hope.

And we fucking got one!