I spoke with my friend Lillian tonight. Lillian’s only daughter, Marjorie, was killed in the 9-11 attack on the Pentagon. I’ve invited Lillian, a journalist herself, to write something to share with us here. Anything she wants. If she does, I’ll be sharing that in the days ahead.
I didn’t know Lillian before the 9-11 attack. She wrote to me after reading something I wrote about my father’s death and our friendship grew from that.
You understand me, Lillian says. By that, she simply means that I understand something of loss and grief.
That’s quite a contrast to the note I received from another journalist, this one in NYC, chiding me for remarks I made about how uncomfortable I was about the revelry over Bin Laden’s death. This woman is someone I respect, so her criticisms aren’t readily dismissed. What she said, in essence, was that given how I wasn’t in NYC, how I hadn’t personally lost anyone, I was out-of-line for scolding people over their celebrating.
Perhaps she’s right. I’ve been out-of-line a time or two in my life. Okay. Maybe more.
But let me address a couple of things here:
– I think there’s huge difference between being relieved and actually celebrating the death of an enemy. That said, for anyone in NYC to suggest that the rest of the nation doesn’t get it because we weren’t there on that day, that we can’t possibly understand, is simply wrong-headed. It marginalizes the rest of the nation. Including people like Lillian, who happens to live in Georgia. NYC does not own the corner market on grief when it comes to 9-11. Remember that field in Pennsylvania? That military complex in Virginia? Even those who didn’t inhale ash appreciate the loss, the devastation, the anger. We get it. You don’t have to agree with my perspective but don’t dismiss me as ignorant, or callous. I am neither.
– Lillian, unaware of any of this, said to me tonight that she was uncomfortable with the celebrating. She said it reminded her of when school children in Muslim countries cheered the collapse of the Twin Towers.
-At Katdish’s blog, she delineates the difference as she sees it between us celebrating the death of Bin Laden and others celebrating 9-11. I think we are walking a fine line here.
– Frankly, when I saw the photos of people celebrating outside the White House it grieved me deeply. If you study the photos, I think what you’ll see are mostly a young Georgetown population . Entitled. Privileged. Educated. Myopic. Exactly the same kind of people who would have stormed the gates of hell had President Bush or President Obama enacted a draft as a means to help disperse the burden of finding Bin Laden. Perhaps I’m wrong about that, but I didn’t see many in the crowd from DC’s more battered communities. I suspect those cheering the loudest would have been the same whining the most had their butts been shipped off to Iraq or Afghanistan due to a draft. So spare me the victory chant.
– Those same readers have gone on the record taking a different stance against Bin Laden. So I’m left to assume that it’s not murder that’s the problem, but the number of people a person murders. Bin Laden crossed the line of redemption but the man who beat to death a 3-year old didn’t? I’m confused. Help me understand how it is we choose who gets forgiveness and who doesn’t? And who we are obligated to forgive and who to cheer to hell?
– Lillian and I have talked numerous times about this issue. I would never tell her she had to forgive Bin Laden, any more than I would tell the little girl’s father he needed to forgive the man who killed his daughter. I’m ready to admit that I don’t know the answer but shouldn’t we be consistent in our world view? If there is forgiveness and redemption for the murderer in prison, isn’t it there for the mass murderer as well? Or is it like fishing? You catch your limit, you’re done?
– I’ll confess this whole thing has left me cranky. I warned Tim of that before he got home tonight. I have an unsettled feeling about all of this. A heaviness. I had a good crying jag with God today. I’ll probably have several more before week’s end.
– I am worried about us. About who we are becoming. I keep remembering a conversation I had with a friend in 2003, days before we invaded Iraq. She and I were standing in a manioc field overlooking Vietnam’s Ia Drang Valley – a bloody battle there in 1965 took her father’s life and ultimately led to my father’s death. She was weeping the way I did today: Why? she wailed. Why? What was all this for?
– A few weeks later a boy I hadn’t met yet would lose his father in Iraq. The result of a suicide bomber. The boy was 5, he had a brother 3 and his mom was pregnant with yet another boy. He’s in junior high now. I asked him once if he told the other kids that his father died in Iraq. No, he said. Why not? I asked. Because, he said, it hurts to talk about my father. Oh. I get that, I said. And another thing, he said. What’s that? Kids today think it’s cool when your father dies in war but I know it’s not — it hurts.
I can’ t help but think that when we raise up generations of kids who think it’s cool to die in war, that it’s cool to kick ass, that it’s cool to waste the bad guy, then how is it again that we differ from our enemies?
Celebrate if you must but mark my word, people, Bin Laden’s death is not the end of this story.