When something is thrown upwards, there is a point at which the object’s upward momentum and the force of gravity are equal. For some time period — even if it is incredibly small — when the object hangs suspended. That is the emotional space I have occupied since learning about Osama bin Laden’s death. Any relief/closure/positive emotion has been tempered by my normal instinct that death is bad and deaths, even of bad people, are not meant to be celebrated.
Now, I should confess a few things. I grew up on Long Island and live in Washington, DC. My emotional location vis-à-vis 9/11 had been a strange place. It remains one of the worst days of my life and few things would make me happier than seeing the towers built back exactly the way there were and despite knowing New York as well as I know any place on earth, I still get lost in lower Manhattan sometimes because I still look for the WTC when I get out of the subway. Growing up, that was my compass in the city. It may always be. These are the reasons, my liberal friends tell me my opinion of anything 9/11 related is less valid because I am too close to it.
At the same time, I will never think we should do to ourselves what the terrorists could not; destroy out way of life and take away our belief in the ideals that inspired our republic. Racial intolerance cannot be mistaken for vigilance against terrorism. We cannot convince anyone outside of the US to believe that we believe in the importance of the rule of law if we do not apply it uniformly within the US. And the Bill of Rights is as important today as it was on 9/10/2001. These are the reasons my conservative friends tell me my opinions on this subject are less valid because I “do not understand the impact 9/11 had on America.”
You can see the paradox. One might think these opinions would give me more reason to hate Osama bin Laden but I don’t. I can’t. He doesn’t deserve that. The closest thing I have had to “joy” at seeing him be killed was when I laughed at a photo of President Obama that had the caption “I am sorry it took me so long to get you my birth certificate, I was busy killing Osama bin Laden.”
At the end of the day though, if I were to become the kind of person who celebrates any loss of life — even of someone as reprehensible as this mass killer — I just become more like them and I don’t want that.