Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A time to rejoice?

Osama bin Laden is dead.

To be honest, I never honestly thought that I’d hear those words. Now that they’ve been spoken, shouted, Facebooked, Tweeted, and splashed everywhere, I’m not sure what to think. Truly.

The part of me that is vindictive American wants to jump up and down while grinning from ear to ear. Why? Because part of me remembers the scared teenager I was 10 years ago. Ten years ago, I had just barely graduated from high school. My parents had just barely dropped me off at college, in a place that was quite literally across the country from everything and everyone I’d ever known. I’d been in D.C. for all of two weeks when September 11th happened. I was still in culture shock – transitioning from a Caucasian, middle class city of 50,000 people to a multi-ethnic/linguistic metropolis of 600,000. I was still figuring out how to get out of bed and to class on time without anyone forcibly dragging me out of the sheets; I was still trying to learn people’s names and get used to the idea of having a stranger for a roommate. And then, as Chicken Little once warned, the sky fell down.

When the towers fell and the Pentagon burned, I felt so small, so alone, and so very, very far away from home. The last place on earth I wanted to be in that moment was Washington, DC. I tried so hard to reach my parents, just to talk to them, and couldn’t because all of the lines were jammed with thousands of others doing the exact same thing in the exact same moment. I can’t really even describe how terrified and lonely I felt. Less than a week later, I found myself and three other people playing in a quartet on the pier in New Jersey, looking straight across the harbor at the smoking wreckage of the towers. After we’d finished, I simply sat down on a wooden bench and all I could do was stare. Debris was all over the place, bits and pieces floating on the water and a light ash still rained down from the sky. It was hard to draw myself away from the knowledge that those bits and pieces of ash and debris were the bits and pieces that make up the everyday lives of everyday people. Ten years later, when I reflect on that week in September, I can still feel the terror and loneliness and I can still see the ashes in the air. I didn’t lose a loved one that day, but a small piece of my childhood innocence was ripped away. September 11th forced me to understand that the world really was much bigger than I’d ever imagined, and so much more frightening.

So yes, a part of me raises a small, whispered, “Thanks!” to the American soldiers that rid the world of Osama bin Laden.

And yet - somehow – a larger part of me is unable to rejoice because what happened is not really justice – it’s revenge. And justice is not and never will be the same thing as revenge.

I’ll never argue that bin Laden was a good man, or a gentle one , and in some respects I believe that our world is ever so slightly better without his looming presence. But the reality is that for every bin Laden that we rid ourselves of, fifty more stand in line ready to take his place. I don’t believe that his death will bring about the end of terrorism; I think it will only cause those groups to organize and mobilize. It simply engenders more hatred within our enemies. I am afraid that the coming months and years will show America what terrorism really means. I’m afraid that his death will come at a cost that we ultimately will not wish to pay. Is that really something worth celebrating?

And we have forgotten that death always costs someone something. What about the 10 year old daughter who witnessed American soldiers placing a bullet into her father’s head? How does one celebrate that?

Speaking as a Christian (I’m not in the habit of preaching, so make of this what you will), ultimately, Osama bin Laden died without ever comprehending the depth of Christ’s love for mankind; he died walking a lonely road, never acknowledging or accepting a personal relationship with the Lord. He died with a heart so full of vengeance and hate that the concepts of grace, mercy, and forgiveness had no room to take hold. In rejoicing over this death, aren’t we also forgetting about grace? Is that not something about which we ought to be more ashamed than celebratory?

The death of Osama bin Laden, to me, is very much the embodiment of both triumph and tragedy. It’s a triumph, in a sense, for America – not for any one politician or political party – but for every American. We did exactly what we said we’d do nearly 10 years ago; we found bin Laden and we killed him. But it’s also a tragedy, because his death comes at the price of engendering more hatred and bitterness. To me, it is very much the principle of an eye for an eye making the whole world blind. MLK Jr said it better than I ever could when he said that:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how to feel about the death of this man. The 18 year old me howls in triumph, while the 28 year old me shakes my head in disbelief. I can’t forget how I felt and what I saw in September 2001, but I am afraid of what the coming years will bring.

Osama bin Laden is dead.