Osama Bin Laden is Dead

I am not a political person, and so I had just about decided not to publicly comment about the death of Osama Bin Laden as I didn’t really know that I had anything intelligent to add. But the more time I spent thinking about it this morning, the more I felt it was my obligation as an American writer living in this time to chronicle this event. I remember being a small child and getting a homework assignment to ask my grandmother about World War II, and what I learned from her will live in my memory always. I want this moment to be alive, too. Someday, someone small and beloved might ask me what I felt on this day, at this moment in history. I want to answer before my feelings have been faded and washed out by the passage of time.
I remember where I was on September 11, 2001. I think most of us who were alive at that moment probably do. I was married on June 21 of that same year, and by July I was pregnant. My young husband and I had no money to afford a baby, and so he joined the United States Air Force as a way to create security for his child. We were told he probably wouldn’t go to basic training for six months. He went to the Denver MEPS center on September 9, 2001 to sign his contract. It was the first night we ever spent apart. He came back from Denver on a Greyhound bus late in the evening on September 10, 2001 and I clung to him. The next morning my mother woke us by pounding on my bedroom door and calling, “Terrorists bombed the Twin Towers, in New York! The president says we’re going to war with Afghanistan!”
By October my husband was gone. I remember picking a fight with him as I dropped him off at the bus station so that I would be mad when he left instead of devastated. During his speech President Obama said, “We are all familiar with the images, but what about those images we’ll never see? Those empty seats at the dinner table?” I was not the direct victim of those horrible moments in New York, and I cannot begin to fathom the pain those families went through and go through still. But I can say that one of those empty chairs was at my table, and was for a long time.
I remember his Basic Training graduation. It was held on Thanksgiving weekend of 2001. My husband was beautiful in his dress blues, marching perfectly in step. A woman beside me marveled, “They’re all so young,” and they were. Not one of them was over twenty-seven. I went home without him and didn’t see him again until he finished tech school in February and we moved to Holloman AFB in New Mexico together. I grieved as I left my home, but I didn’t cry. I didn’t want him to think he was hurting me by his sacrifice.
We were married for nearly five years, and he was gone for six months of every one of those years. I made friends with a lot of service people during those times. I had one friend who was a punk rocker from Maine. He had a nervous breakdown in Iraq and they sent him back the next year anyway. He told me a story about coming home on a plane and being sickened by the evasive actions that plane had to take to avoid ground to air fire. I offered to make him a sandwich, and he gratefully agreed. He was…I want to say that he was about twenty-two?
My own husband never told me about the things he saw while he was overseas, except for conversations with natives or how he had become allergic to the sea food they ate there. I would hear horrible things from his friends, but he never told me a story that would frighten me. I believe that he did what he did to protect me, and his silence was an extension of that. But silence takes a toll on a heart, and we grew distant over those years. We were strangers who lived in the same house and raised the same child. I would never know the things he saw, and he would never understand the things I felt while he was gone. The distance, and the silence, was too much for people as young as we were then. To be honest I don’t know if I could handle living in such silence now that I am older.
I remember when I was young that I used to pray someone would catch Osama Bin Laden so my family would be whole. But now, ten years later, Osama Bin Laden is dead. That marriage could not survive the pressure his actions placed on us, and trust me; I know how good we had it. I know other women lost their husbands over there and had to raise their children alone. I know there are women still living in New York who sent their husbands off to work and never saw them again. I will not pretend that my loss was the greatest one of this too long war, but it was a loss, and it was mine.
When it comes to the death penalty, I feel that the person who committed the atrocity is usually not the person who dies. I feel that generally, a murderer probably commits his crime in a hot rage, goes to jail, and looks at the gray walls until he can see his victim in his sleep. I feel that generally these people must become very sorry. Of course I recognize that being sorry will never bring his victim or victims back, but the years it takes to meet death after such a crime must take a toll on a human being. I do not pretend to know what Osama Bin Laden felt about his crimes. I do know that it has been many years since he helped to plot a terrorist operation and that he was really only a figure head. So on hearing that a terrorist is dead, on order of our president, my feelings are somewhat mixed. The man was responsible for horrible crimes. He was not responsible for one death but many, many thousands. He hurt every American by his actions, not just those of us who were literally harmed but all of us. He hurt me. But he was a man, and a man is dead. I think to blatantly celebrate his death proves nothing but that we need to reconnect with the value we place on human life.
So in closing, I guess my point is this: Osama Bin Laden tried to kill America and didn’t. America tried to kill him and did. It is certainly a victory, but for me it is a hollow one, a victory that comes too late to fix anything broken. So many are dead, so much is lost. This death is piled on top of so much other death that I somehow can’t bring myself to feel avenged.

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6 Comments »

  1. Madison Woods Said:

    Your commentary echos that of someone else I spoke with today, so don’t feel alone in the world.

    My own feelings on the matter are mixed, as well, and I think you’re right on many counts.

    Now that Osama is dead, it would make sense that the war be over in Afganistan, since the quest to kill him is why we’re there… supposedly. But I haven’t heard that mentioned anywhere.

    • Michelle John Said:

      thanks for your support, Madison. I admit I did feel alone, with people partying in the streets. I also don’t think this will end the war, which is another reason I think people are so happy. They think our soldiers can come home now, and I really don’t see that happening. But I guess at this point all we can do is pray and have faith that good things will happen.

  2. Juliann Said:

    This was beautifully written. The only thing to bring happiness is hope for a future without war. Other than that there is only pity that one life had to be lived and end so hideously. I went to lunch with my friend yesterday and told her that Bin Laden was dead. She looked at me blankly and said, “who?” I almost wished that I could not know, but to wipe clean the experience would show an unwillingness to grow up, to know betrayal and loss of innocence and go on anyway. I think there’s something beautiful about that and worth celebrating.

    • Michelle John Said:

      I agree, I hope that this final death ends this war. It has gone on too long. There are too many people who have been forced to forge ahead with less than they had before. I hope that people remember to celebrate our survivial, and not another being’s death.

  3. Madison Woods Said:

    A future without war is ideal and a utopian picture. But I worry that the only way to achieve that state is under a one-world government where no one is free to disagree to the point of fighting for what they believe is right or worth dying for … and I definitely don’t like *that* picture.

    • You are right about that. I suspect that an end to all wars would mean humanity had stopped being human. But for now I think I would settle for an end to this one.


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