So ends a chapter. Of American history, yes. But of my life as well.
I lived on Lafayette Street, well below Canal, in September 2001. About seven blocks from the World Trade Center. Many people like to begin their story of that morning with the irony of a beautiful blue sky. That’s not my tale. Mine was waking from a dorm room bed to phone calls of laughing friends. “Jeff, you gotta wake up. Some asshole flew a plane into the Trade Center.” I went to the street in front of the building and looked up, joined by a few dozen others, cup of coffee in my hand. None of us could believe someone could do such a thing.
Then a second plane. Laughing stopped.
The details of the next few hours, next few days are not pleasant. Watching individuals dive from top floor windows, afraid to let a fire consume them. Soot-covered businessmen chugging 40s of whatever beer they could grab from a bodega cooler. Sleeping on the kitchen floors of any friend who’d have me. Walking back to my place and being afraid by the awful smell in the air. Death.
There were wonderful moments too. The movie theater at Union Square opening its doors for a full day and saying, “Come on in New York. Have a popcorn and soda and forget all this.” Folks treating firemen and police officers like the heroes they often are. Patriotism, true love not of symbols or flags or political party, but of every single individual who bears that most sacred of moniker: American.
There are many who will react to the death of Osama Bin Laden with the sense of ironic detachment that has sadly penetrated the culture. It seems not to be “cool” for anyone under forty to be genuine. To feel real emotions. Well that’s never been me. Tonight I cried hearing that Bin Laden was dead. My hands shook, my body quivered and I cried. I felt it all again in one moment. All the pain and sadness. I smelt the air again and saw those bodies in the air.
Except now I had closure. The closure I sought in those weeks after September 11, staring at a television screen, hoping for anything to occur. Ten years later the news finally flashed across the screen: Bin Laden Dead. Ten years later I can turn the television off.
And I hope the same for the family member of each of the more than 3,000 individuals killed that day. The death of this evil man will not bring those loved ones back but for one night you can lay your head on your pillow and know the man responsible has met justice. At the hands of our boys. At the hands of our president. Sleep tonight. It is a good night ten years coming.