I lay awake with my earphones on after President Obama's announcement of Osama bin Laden's death, listening to reaction around the world as the news spread. I found it hard to label my feelings -- after all this, all those deaths, all that ruin, after that pile of rubble rose hundreds of feet above ground that smoked for months, after all those funerals -- is this IT? Is he really gone? In front of the White House and at Ground Zero, crowds gathered, singing, chanting, dancing: a party.
There was a time before Osama bin Laden became what he became. He came into the world as we all do: an innocent child. It was not God's intention for him to become a dealer in horror and death, and it seems not to have been his wealthy family's, either-- they distanced themselves from his terrible career long ago. Already, Arab activism seems to be moving on from his brand of hate -- the revolutions currently in play in several countries of the region are the product of younger, more humane hearts, more eager to connect with the world than to separate themselves from it.
How strange: had Osama lived on, he might have lived long enough to become irrelevant. We have seen it before: affable elderly men, beloved by their friends and neighbors, who turn out to have been torturers in Nazi death camps in their youth. Decrepit dictators brought to trial long after they fell from power, unable anymore even to participate in their own defense. Look at him, their lawyers say, pointing at their stooped clients, he couldn't hurt a fly!
Osama can't hurt us anymore, that's for certain. Others can, though, and some want to -- not everyone has bought into the new spirit of the Arab Spring. I listened to the chant -- USA! USA! Lots of young people out there, people who were nine or ten when it happened and are now young adults. They may not remember what it was like for us in those days, how imminent another attack seemed to us, and how wounding it was to see film footage of young people dancing in the streets half a world away, rejoicing in our pain. It was a fearsome thing to me the other night, hearing that chant coming out of the radio in the dark -- it will provoke a response, I thought uneasily. But maybe not. Maybe I need to move on, too.
Those of us whose hearts still skip a beat when we see a low-flying plane -- we are a little quiet. That he is gone yields a grim satisfaction, but it is something other than joy. A certain symmetry has been achieved, but not a single one of the 3,000 innocent will come back to us because Osama has died.
The ending of a sad chapter is not necessarily happy. Sometimes it's just the ending.
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