I am from the generation shaped by 9/11. I still remember that somber day in 2001. I was in seventh grade. I woke up to my dad watching TV, probably around 6 a.m. PST, telling me that a plane had just crashed into The World Trade Center.
I didn't know what that building was. I didn't know what it meant. But I knew that someone was intentionally trying to hurt a bunch of people. And I was scared. I ran across the street, knocked on the door of my cousin who lives there, and told her the news (except I said it was a plane full of bombs, because in my adolescent brain "terrorist attack" equated to bombings).
I got to school and our teachers were talking about it. Mrs. Haeberman, the social studies teacher who I had during sixth period, right after lunch, just stood at the podium and cried. She told us that she'd hoped we'd never have to experience war in our lifetimes. I don't think any of us really knew how big this thing was. But all the adults were taking it seriously.
My parents bought a flag sticker to put on the rear window of our Toyota Tundra (it's now just a little white blob, faded and worn away at the edges). My middle school photos were the week of 9/11 and we all wore red, white and blue t-shirts. I still didn't know what it meant, but I was directly impacted by national unity. For the first time in my young life, I understood what it meant to be "proud to be an American."
Fast forward to Sunday night, May 1, around 9 p.m. PST. I am laying in bed, it's dark. I see the ceiling suddenly illuminated by what can only be my iPhone screen. I pick it up off the floor, thinking I either had a text message or a new Twitter reply. Instead, I see this push notification from my CNN iPhone app:
Osama bin Laden killed at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after a firefight, President Obama said Sunday.
My mind, without my consent, shifted back to that bleary-eyed morning in my parents' home almost 10 years ago where it all started. In the blink of an eye, I had jumped out of bed and my laptop was open with two new tabs to the Twitter and Facebook homepages.
But what did I see there? Cheers of joy, celebrations, drinking, flag waving... that's what the past 10 years have lead up to? One big party? As I scrolled through the tweets, I turned to my boyfriend and asked, "Is it wrong that I actually feel sad right now? Do I just not understand the full scope of what this means?"
Sure, he was "the most wanted face of terrorism" -- but he was just that, a face. Bin Laden himself was not terrorism. He was one person. And he is dead. He was murdered by Americans. Does his death mean terrorism is gone? No. It's not as though Al Qaeda will cease to exist. Someone else is ready to take over.
Dare I say it?... It's not as though we've won.
I finally stumbled upon a tweet that put me at ease and captured the way I felt, which seemed to run counter to everyone else's exciteness:
Tonight is a night for sober and mature reflection, not glee. Mindless celebration is both spiritually inappropriate and politically naive.
I closed the laptop for a few hours and watched old episodes of Californication to get my mind off of it. I tried to go to sleep. But here I am, 2 a.m. PST on Monday morning, completely unable to sleep and still reflecting on what this death really means.
In the past 10 years, how has 9/11 impacted me? Besides those first few weeks when my life became a flurry of red, white and blue -- it didn't. Gas prices are more expensive. I have to take off my shoes at airports and only carry little travel-sized bottles of liquid. The economy hit a rough patch and unemployment rates soared. But an as individual whose teenage and adult life has entirely taken place post-9/11, I still don't know what it means for me, or for the rest of the world that he is dead. Am I suddenly safer now? Nothing feels different. And I certainly don't think it's something worth getting drunk over.
A piece that The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal wrote earlier this morning about the scene outside the White House shook me. He describes hoards of college-aged students, adorned in red, white and blue attire. They're drunk, they scream, they hold up the No. 1 sign with their pointer fingers, "as if all those drunken Georgetown games had been training for this moment in front of the world's roving cameras." Madrigal's concluding paragraph is what shook me the most:
In the wee hours of Monday morning, I did hear a half-assed version of "America the Beautiful" sung once. A "Thank you troops! Thank you troops!" chant momentarily popped into existence, too. But there were no transcendent moments, no times when the crowd united to consider the greater significance of a free society's battle with its enemies and all the costs and victories thereof. Perhaps people did their own private accounting, but as a public, we were loud and boorish and silly. We treated the killing of a man who promoted the killing of thousands of Americans like a game with no consideration of the past or future costs.
But I know many of you who aren't in D.C. or in a college town are probably sitting in the dark, sober, thinking the same things as me right now. I hope you all -- and myself -- find some clarity.
So here's to peace and a world without terrorism, but we're not there yet. We honestly probably never will be. Good night.