Monday, May 2, 2011

The Bin Laden Effect

I woke up on the morning of September 12, 2001 in my fiancĂ©’s apartment on the 23rd floor of his building on 39th Street in Manhattan. Neither of us had slept much at all, of course. And after that first foggy moment between sleep and waking when nothing is quite clear, the memory of the madness we were living descended.

We stumbled around his apartment in silence; the chaos in our heads and hearts too noisy to talk over. Reporters on the television we hadn’t turned off the night before were frantically trying to make sense of the nightmare still unfolding all around us.

From his building, we could see—and smell—the black, burning cloud at the tip of the island.

“Nothing is ever going to be the same,” I said to him. “Everything is different now.”

This morning, like millions of others, I woke to the news that Osama bin Laden is dead. Since first hearing the news, I’ve been stumbling through my morning trying to wrap my head around what that actually means, the chatter of reporters once again in the background.

There is undeniable symbolic importance to his death, a final sentence delivered to the Al Qaeda figurehead by a brave group of U.S. special operatives.

An awful lot of people have waited an awfully long time to hear this.

And yet, I can’t help but ruminate on my own words on 9/12. “Nothing is ever going to be the same.”

For so many people, this remains an unalterable truth. And the news of OBL’s death—though admittedly very welcome—doesn’t do much to change our present.

It’s remarkable and terrifying to think about the millions of lives OBL’s atrocities have altered. Because of one man’s evil, the course of human history has been changed.

It isn’t the first time that’s happened. And if history teaches us anything, it will likely not be the last.

I understand the jubilation across the country, even if I don’t share it. Like millions of others, I am glad Osama bin Laden is dead. And I’ve been experiencing my own quiet catharsis this morning.

But there’s still an empty space at bottom of New York City and in the hearts of millions of New Yorkers. Empty chairs at dinner tables won't be filled because of this. Our country is still fighting multiple wars. And OBL’s murderous ideology still lives even as his body sinks to the bottom of the sea.

Today, like the morning of September 12, I have a deeply unsettling feeling.

But this morning, my disquiet comes from the opposite realization:

As much as we wish it had, nothing has changed.