Today there is a whole lot of rejoicing in the US. Osama Bin Laden is dead! In the words of Mark Twain, “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” I am sure there are many who feel that way today. The horrific sights of 9/11 are seared in our brains to be remembered for the rest of our lives. The human loss on that day alone is incalculable, and the acts of bravery are not forgotten. How did you hear the news on that day? I was at work. Just eight weeks before my wedding day, I was still living in Allentown, PA, and was director of the Women’s Community Corrections Center. As I sat in my office I could hear women outside my door growing agitated. I stepped into the hallway to see what was going on and was pulled into the recreation room where the television was blaring the news that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. The twin towers were ablaze. In horror and disbelief I blurted out “We are under attack!” Later I was to learn that my son lost a friend in those moments we were getting news from the Pentagon, a young man who had spent time in our home and who had a promising naval career ahead of him. This young man, Lt. Jonas Martin Panik, was in
naval intelligence and his office took the direct hit of the plane. Fortunately, he did not suffer. Of course I did not have those details at the moment. I, along with the residents of the center, sat glued to the television and watched in shock and denial as events unfolded that day. I called my
children. None of them were in New York or Washington, DC. My son lives in Pittsburgh with his family however, not far from Shanksville where plane passengers heroically shouted “lets roll” as they took a plane down rather than let hundreds more be killed in the assassins’ rush toward destruction. But that came later. In the moments as events were unfolding, none of us knew. . .really knew. . .what was happening. I just needed to hear the voices of my far flung children and know that they were ok.
Then, this morning I could not sleep. I awoke around three a.m., and around 4:30 decided to hop onto the computer to
do some school work. The news that greeted me was that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in a late night attack on his compound in Pakistan. I don’t know about you, but I was flooded with feelings. Tears well up even now as I write this. Tears for lives lost, bitterness sewn, a world changed. Am I glad the man is dead? Yes. Political correctness be damned. I’ve already read comments by people who speak of justice with peace, and that we Americans are just perpetuating the blood shed, that Bin Laden should have been kept alive and brought to trial, but I don’t buy one word of the rhetoric. Not one word. I also read people questioning who gets the credit for killing Bin Laden. My response? Who cares? The man is responsible for killing in one day close to three thousand of our citizens–friends, acquaintances, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, children and aged, all religions, all races as they were going about their daily business. There are many more deaths worldwide that were masterminded by this man. None of his targets were military; all were unsuspecting civilians. And we squabble over who gets credit for his death??? But that is not the only irony. I find it ironic that there are radical Muslim clerics who are now decrying Bin Laden’s burial at sea as “contrary to the principles of Islamic laws, religious values and humanitarian customs” (Sheik Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand Imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque.) Since when did Bin Laden follow religious values and humanitarian customs? Really now, did Bin Laden act according to the principles of Islamic laws?
Unfortunately, Bin Laden’s death does not end the terror, the threats, the evil that seems to permeate the world. The messenger
is gone, but al-Qaeda lives on. Drat. Today’s blog prompt was what will change now that Osama Bin Laden is gone? Truthfully, I doubt that much will change. In fact the level of threat to human life has probably increased as plans are being formulated to exact revenge. Tragically, every generation has its Bin Ladens. One is gone, taken out, done away with; another emerges to take his (usually male, but there are wicked women, too) place. The world changed after 9/11. In the immediate days following the downing of the twin towers, we knew things would change but we did not know how they would change. In fact, months later it appeared as if life had returned to normalcy which seemed a sacrilege. Now I know better. Changes in security everywhere we go, news of terrorism around the globe, international travel curtailed as never before, children growing up without the freedom of movement I took for granted in my youth, deadly attacks on civilian lives world-wide –Spain, England, India, etc. In many ways life seems a mess to me.
Today I watch crowds of people celebrating in the streets. Jubilation erupts instantaneously as the news of Bin Laden’s death races around the world; “Ding dong the wicked witch is dead!” But I feel uneasy. It is a sad day that brings so much joy over destruction of a human life. But then it is a sad day when one human can wreak havoc over all humanity. It is a sad day that the evil is so evil that it is a good thing to take out a human life. Am I happy that Osama Bin Laden is dead? Once again I say Yes. Am I jubilantly dancing in the streets? No. We all know that evil still lurks. Others, some viler than Osama Bin Laden, are left to vie for his place as head of a cadre of radical followers seeking to destroy all who do not kowtow to their worldview.
How then, are we to live and breathe and lead vibrant lives in the face of ubiquitous evil? As I wrote the previous sentence, the thought hit me that GOOD is ubiquitous, too! Goodness is also more powerful than evil. The major difference between the two is that goodness takes longer to do its work than does evil, which can destroy in an instant. Evil is all about glitz, glamour, immediacy, and self-aggrandizement. Goodness is gentler, oftentimes harder to see, more modest, but when the times or circumstances demand it, goodness rises out of devastation and gives us hope as witnessed at ground zero in the hours, days and weeks that followed 9/11. Goodness wins out in the long run, evil is NOW! Yet another irony is that each one of us has a penchant for evil as well as for good. Each of us is capable of hurting someone else, but also of helping to heal the other. One is seen and felt in an instant, the other may go unnoticed for a very long time. One destroys, the other heals.
We have choices. Osama Bin Laden is dead. But we still live. Evil will continue to bombard our lives, sometimes in grandiose ways. Inevitably in those times pain and grief will overwhelm our senses. Rather than succumb, I hope I will find within me the goodness to continue doing good. Like the phoenix rising out of the ashes, may we learn, adjust, and then find ways to heal and to love, to excel, to do good.
I do understand those who dance in the streets when that which is evil is brought down. I also grieve that the evil became so evil in the first place. This is a day of rejoicing tempered with mourning. This is a day to contemplate the life I want to live. Osama Bin Laden’s death will be worth the jubilation and celebration as seen on our television screens when we choose goodness over evil, building up over tearing down, healing a broken world over enabling a deathly illness that left unchecked threatens to destroy.
A Psalm of David when he fled from his son Absalom:
O Lord, my foes are so many!
Many are those who attack me;
Many say of me,
“There is no deliverance for him through G-d.” Selah.
But You, O Lord, are a shield about me,
My glory, He who holds my head high.
I cry aloud to the Lord,
And He answers me from His holy mountain. Selah
I lie down and sleep and wake again,
For the Lord sustains me.
I have no fear of the myriad forces
Arrayed against me on every side.
Rise, O Lord!
Deliver me, O my G-d!
For You slap all my enemies in the face,
You break the teeth of the wicked.
Deliverance is the Lord’s;
Your blessing be upon Your people! Selah