Monday, May 02, 2011

Then and now.

Receiving the news of Osama bin Laden's death last night brought a rush of feelings. Some of them were gladness and relief. But mostly I felt heartsick anew at the sheer amount of loss. And also a little scared at the hornets' nest that could be stirred up. I'm looking ahead to the flight to Boston we have coming up in July as part of our trip to Maine and I can't help but feel a little apprehensive about it.

I've been reflecting a lot on the parallels between these two events, since they form bookends in a way. The parallels are interesting, and so are the differences. A lot has changed since then. Ten years ago, I was a college student, I suppose just beginning to come of age. Now, I'm a homeowner with a husband and a dog.

I'm sure no one who was capable of memory on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, will ever forget where they were and what they were doing when the news broke of the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. I was asleep. It was the second day of classes at Knox College, and I had arranged my schedule in such a way that I could sleep in on Tuesday mornings before going to my campus work-study job in the library, and then classes in the afternoon. So I was awakened by our dorm room phone ringing. My roommate Margaret answered. It was our friend Eric. He didn't tell us what was happening. He just said to turn on the TV.

The same snapshot-in-time feeling may occur again with this news. It was a rainy Sunday night, and Mark and I had settled in on the couch, watching reruns of the Joss Whedon show Angel on Netflix. Rudy was snoozing with his head on my lap. We were feeling worn out but content after a productive weekend of gardening and other work around the house. I had Facebook open on my laptop, but hadn't checked it in a few hours. We were a few minutes away from turning in for the night. My cell phone trilled its text message song. It was Margaret--telling me to turn on the TV. Now, ever since 9/11, those words have held a bit of forboding for me. Watching that disaster unfold on the suite TV of my dorm had changed everything. Evil, truly evil things can happen, and sometimes they can't be stopped. And all we can do is watch. And cry.

I couldn't turn on the TV because we don't have TV service (Netflix and Hulu serve all our needs). But I immediately turned to Facebook. Someone would have linked a news story or posted the basic gist of the story in his or her status. That was the quickest way to find out what was going on. Someone had posted "Justice for 9/11!" Another said, "Ding dong the witch is dead." I narrated to Mark: "I think they got bin Laden! Wait...bin Laden is DEAD." Mark found a stream of Obama's live announcement.

Those two moments are going to live on for me. In college, Facebook was unheard of. I didn't have a cell phone. We got the news on a landline. We watched the towers collapse on a regular TV. So much has changed--but it still feels like it just happened, because those feelings of pain still feel so raw. I didn't lose any loved ones on that day, but the pain was still there. (I can't imagine the pain if I had lost someone.) All that fear and death and hatred, realized in the least abstract way possible: smoke, fire, blood, twisted steel. And this news changes nothing. It still hurts. Part of my realization has been that yes, it's been a long time, and I've changed, and the world has changed, but it's that moment, the moment we realized what was happening on that Tuesday morning, that remains the defining moment. Yes, I'm glad, and yes, I'm relieved. And I don't diminish the import of what our military and intelligence accomplished. But you won't see me cheering.

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