Thanks to social media, every possible comment and joke about Osama bin Ladens’ recent retirement party is already out there. Paul and I contributed our fair share as events unfolded last night, but it seems appropriate to muse a bit, now that I’ve gained an entire twelve hours’ worth of additional perspective.
I was amazed by the wide variety of reactions people had to events as they unfolded, and in particular through the lens of our tweets, the majority of which were jokes: those that were retweeted or Favorited the most were also the ones most likely to draw condemnation, usually on the grounds that humor was not appropriate at that particular moment.
Of course I disagree. It would be more accurate to say that at that moment, humor was not appropriate for many people. But I understand the reaction. Although humor is how I first deal with complex emotional situations, I also understand that others may feel it’s in poor taste, and–LOOK OUT HERE COMES THE “ASSHOLE” BRANDING IRON!
But if I’m pumping out really funny comments, more than likely it’s because my mind is trying to sort out emotional and intellectual contradictions. And the death of the architect of 9/11 after nearly ten years is about as emotionally complex as it gets. Is it right to celebrate killing, even if it is of a mass-murder who has spread infectious and deadly hate? Does bin Laden’s death really change anything? Am I the same as any flag-waving simpleton for feeling grateful to our armed forces? How does the rest of the world see the this event? Will it bring comfort to those who lost loved ones, or were otherwise scarred by the events of 9/11? In the coming days, months, and years, isn’t this event just going to be spun and reforged, to be used as a cudgel by all sides of political debates?
What finally snapped my more serious emotions into place was that shortly after Mrs. Storm went back up to bed, I was alone in our TV room. At that moment I realized that I was sitting in almost exactly the same spot as I was on September 11, 2001, when I first heard (by phone call from not-yet-Mrs. Storm) that planes had struck the Twin Towers. Unbidden, my mind uncompressed a large archive of memories, and I remembered sitting there in a state of disbelief, as most of the world did. When I heard emergency vehicles racing down Lee Highway, I knew something terrible had happened closer to home. Moments later the reports were coming in that the Pentagon had been struck, just four miles away as the crow flies.
As I sorted through those old thoughts, and that old world, my neighbors began setting off fireworks, bringing me back to the present. I decided to call it a night.
We all remember that day which, for better or for worse, may be the only true shared experience the United States has had in the past thirty years or so. And even if the killing of Osama bin Laden fractures into an infinite number of meanings, as it inevitably will, it’s heartening that for at least a sliver of a moment, and despite people having different perspectives on the event even now, we can all feel like we’re connected to each other.
Next time, let’s make it the discovery of extra-terrestrial intelligence, k’?