9.11.01. You know where you were. My youngest sister was only nine, and she remembers. In the days that followed, we grieved and looked for someone to blame, somewhere to direct out fear and anger. When we found out who was responsible, all of our energies were focused, and we rallied together with a common enemy.
In the months that followed, we wrapped ourselves in the flag, distracted ourselves with a war, gave up our civil rights and miraculously let the guy who declared war on us get pushed to the back burner. Calm didn't return. Instead we let numbness seep into our lives and adjusted to a new level of stress in our lives.
Let me ask you something. Ten years later are you less afraid? Think back to ten years ago, and ask yourself if you'd have so willingly walked into a body scanner before your flights. Would it bother you that someone rifled through your suitcase and looked in your purse?
The saying goes that if you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump right out. But if you put a frog in room temperature water and slowly turn up the heat, it will sit there and cook. Well, stick in a fork in us, we're done.
In the 2006 midterm elections, tides started to turn. 2008 brought change and hope. Back and forth, tension building, our country is more divided than ever. Every issue is made political; the extremes pushing the boundaries. We've been at war almost half of my youngest sister's life. Normal has been redefined over and over for not just the American people, but the world.
5.1.11. Barack Obama, having re-focused the war on terror back to Bin Laden, makes a late night announcement that at last he's been found -- and killed. Personally, I cried when I heard the words. I didn't know what else to do.
Was I happy, relieved or just jarred by the sudden change in my reality? Maybe I realized that for the first time since 9.11 I can't put a face to my fear and anger. I can't point a finger and know the name of the enemy. Oh, there are groups and generic labels, but I'm human. I want a face, a symbol, a name to put on my fear.
Further complicating my reaction to the news is ten years of wondering how in the ever-loving hell a 6'5" Arab on dialysis* could wander around, across borders nonetheless, making home videos and talking on a satellite phone without being found. The man had better reception than some AT&T customers and practically had his own YouTube channel. Really!?!
Americans do not take losing well, and in this extremely long game of hide and seek, we were getting our arses kicked. Of all the terrorists we'd managed to catch or kill, #1 kept eluding us.
Every human emotion built up over ten years came to a crescendo and then flooding out. When I saw the crowds gathering at the White House, I knew I had to go. I wasn't so much going to celebrate as to witness. I wanted to be there on this momentous occasion. What I saw was a group of jubilant revelers basking in their national pride, but I saw no malice. It was not a celebration of one man's death. It was more like a losing team finding their way back in the game.
It seems like adults who were actually adults on 9.11 -- at least those who weren't drunk from the Caps game -- were more there to witness a historical event. Perhaps we were still absorbing the news. Our collective nightmare of ten years wasn't necessarily over, but a chapter closed. Only on the edges of our mind were we allowing thoughts of the next chapter to percolate.
The younger crowd was doing the majority of the dancing and chanting. I was a bit shocked by their patriotism actually. This younger generation has been largely apathetic toward national interests, but they had flags aplenty. (Judging by the fancy golden eagle finials, they were stolen from university lecture halls around DC.) They danced and sang and chanted. But what were they celebrating?
Kids in college now are my youngest sister's age. Sure they're old enough to remember 9.11, but did they really understand? The majority of their lives has been under rainbow-colored threat alerts and in long security lines. Then again, maybe it isn't so much 9.11 as the ensuing war on terror and Iraq War that gives them reason to take joy in one battle's victory. It's their older siblings and their friends being killed overseas. Yeah, that's worth a little revelry.
To varying degrees, humans can process myriad emotions and bear great stress physically and mentally. The thing is there is always a breaking point. We've experienced the tech bubble, the housing bubble, and like anything else that's stretched to its limit, our national psyche snapped in another bubble. I won't give it a trite name, but it popped either way. It all resulted in a night of joy and, dare I say it, togetherness.
For the briefest window of time, and I do mean brief, we were Americans. One collective worry was gone. We were united again for the first time in a very long time. I honestly do not believe the majority of us were happy because a man died.
I know personally I can't rejoice in any death. (OK, except maybe a snake's, but I really hate snakes.) I don't think many people really can. But we can rejoice in justice, even if it's delivered in a more unfortunate form. I saw an almost innocent exhibit of relief at a chapter closing and a seized moment of unity in the name of justice. That's what I choose to take away from this.
Underneath all the postured sophistication and tough talk, we all still need to feel like a part of something bigger. We need unity. We need those moments to heave a collective sigh and put worry aside. Even if we only show it for a few hours in the middle of the night.
*It is still undetermined whether or not Bin Laden suffered from a disease that required dialysis. (Snopes.com)