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Monday, May 2, 2011

Reflections on Bin Laden's Death

I was about to go to bed. I was in my pajamas, sitting in front of my computer screen, checking email and social networking sites before shutting everything off for the night.

The first thing I saw was a Facebook status that said. “I don't believe their claims.” I didn't know what that meant. It felt like I had dropped in in the middle of a conversation.

Then, I saw a status that said, “CNN has the news, but none of the world news sites have it.”

That made me curious. My journalist's nose is as sharp as a hound and as relentless as a cat pursuing a mouse. I had to know, so I clicked on CNN's website and saw the headline, “Osama Bin Laden Dead.”

I know those American news sites. Sometimes they jump the gun, so I thought I'd better google what the world was saying. I went to the BBC and I went to the CBC and they confirmed it. I clicked the live feed from CBC News just as they cut to Barack Obama giving a live address to the nation. It was around 11:30 pm, an odd time of day for a president to be giving an address.

So, I sat there, in my pajamas, my mouth agape, my heart racing, my mind wondering if I was having a weird dream that would leave me scratching my head come morning. No. This was real. This wasn't speculation. The president gave a succinct, eloquent and hopeful speech while footage in the right hand corner of the screen showed a tumult of people gathering on the White House lawn screaming, cheering and waving flags.

Tears welled up in my eyes. Could it be? They got the monster? Look at my American neighbours. Look at them in Washington DC. Look at them in New York City. Look at them in the stadium in Philly. In ten years, I have not seen that look they used to have before those planes struck the towers. There it is! There's that look! Call it hope or pride or self confidence. Despite all of their brave words and rhetoric, I had not seen THAT look on the faces of Americans since September 10, 2001.

I also saw that nobody was asking if they were Republicans or Democrats. Everyone was just converging together in a large, impromptu flash mob, celebrating that the one that got away... didn't. It took ten years, but justice was done.

Flash back ten years. Where was I, the Canadian, just before 9 o'clock in the morning on September 11, 2001? I know exactly where I was. I was sitting on my sofa watching TV on the Global Television Network. I was watching 100 Huntley Street with Lorna Dueck and I think the other host was David Mainse' son.

Lorna said, “The TV station is cutting our feed and going live to New York City. Something is happening there.”

I saw one of the towers in the World Trade Centre on fire and people were speculating that there had been a terrible airplane accident. As they were talking, I watched, on a live feed, as a second plane came into view and smashed into the second tower. I remember screaming that this could not be an accident. I watched for a few more minutes, but I felt so horrified that I suddenly didn't want to be alone, so I ran down the stairs to the street where people were milling about, oblivious and shopping. I said, “Turn on your radios. There's been a terrorist attack in New York. The twin towers are burning.”

I hurried over to my brother Howie's house. We sat together and somberly watched the events unfold. He told me that another plane had hit the Pentagon and then we learned that another plane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

I bawled my face off watching people leaping to their deaths, choosing to die that way rather than burning to death. Oh what a great choice that was! Burn or hit the pavement from a hundred floors up. It was horrific to know that these were real people with real lives dying in absolute terror and their families would be left to find them, grieve for them and live without them.

I was very proud of Gander, Newfoundland for taking care of passengers who were stranded when all flights were grounded. We were doing our part. Canadians gathered, 100 000 strong to support America at Parliament Hill and brought the US ambassador to grateful tears as he said, “Truly. You are our best friend.”

My children were teenagers. Anthony was 16 and Kendra was 15 at the time. Tristan (my best friend's son) was 13. I remember clearly that they sat down with us that night. They were solemn and scared and full of questions. My son, Anthony, asked me “Mom. Is this the end of the world?” Those terrorists had managed to terrorize, not only the poor victims and their families in those towers, not only the Americans, but they had managed to terrorize my children too! We were all afraid.

Twenty-four Canadians died in those attacks. Millions more were paralyzed with grief and fear for our American friends, for ourselves and for freedom and democracy itself. It felt like a death knell for life as we knew it.

Many fellow Christians say I shouldn't rejoice that a person has died. Usually, I would agree. It is at the core of my belief system that I hold human life with the highest respect. I believe we are all created by God for a purpose and we choose to fulfill that purpose or not. I don't dance for joy when human beings die, not even when they were in the wrong.

Still, I find jubilation in my heart. If I had been close enough to Ground Zero or Washington, I could picture myself running out into the street, singing and dancing as if I had just been released from a prison, of sorts. The man who tried to rob the free world of security, hope, faith and joy... is dead.

Should I grieve for the man who made my children tremble? If he had stood before me, I would have killed him with my bare hands. Not out of hatred, but out of the fiercest maternal instinct imaginable. This was not vengeance in the sense of killing the person you hate. This was justice. This was necessary. This was death to the figurehead for tyranny and the resurrection of all that is good and decent about America and the civilized nations of the world.

His death was announced on the same day that Adolph Hitler's death was announced, 66 years later.

This is the closest that most of us will get to knowing how the allied nations felt on VE Day, when everyone ran out to the streets and cheered and complete strangers kissed each other for joy.

I still find myself very emotional. This man left a traumatic bruise on the souls of so many of us. He relished the fear he caused. He rejoiced in the deaths of civilians... even those who follow Islam. Hello! He would kill anyone, even his own people. This man represented the most heinous depravity known to the human race.

So, no. I'm not saying I rejoice that a person died, and yet I do rejoice that he is gone. His ideology will try to live on and regroup. I have no delusions that our job is done, but I don't apologize for feeling relief, joy and hope now that their figurehead is standing before God, trembling the way he made my children tremble. I don't think he's so cocky today. I suppose he has figured out that there are no virgins waiting for him.

I'm thankful to God and to the American president, the secret service, the soldiers who carried this out. I'm sure the story, as it unfolds, will become legendary.

May the families of the victims find some closure. May the military families who have lost loved ones in battle know that their sacrifice was not in vain. May the American people begin to heal the rifts caused by fear and the reactions of government officials and civilians to it.

Enjoy this moment, America. Embrace your fellow citizens regardless of their political persuasion. This is not a partisan victory. It is a victory for every single one of you. You can battle out your politics tomorrow. Not today. Not the day you got to shout, “Ding! Dong! The witch is dead!”

What do I feel like doing now? I want to click on an old Elton John song. “I'm still standing better than I ever did... Looking like a true survivor... feeling like a little kid... I'm still standing... yeah yeah yeah...”