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L’Etranger

May 2, 2011

Yes, I watched the President’s speech and all the inane commentary that preceded it last night. No, I am not entirely unhappy to know that Bin Laden is no longer among the living. As Mark Twain once said, “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” But I am avoiding the news today because I find the celebration of his death creepy and ghoulish. I can’t help but feel that when death is the only solution, we have failed somehow.

And I was kind of horrified by the coverage of the celebrations outside the White House. And not just because I’m skeeved out by celebrating anyone’s death – even someone who did incredibly bad things. It seems disrespectful to the dead. This is not the end of the World Series. It’s not even the end of a misguided war. But it’s being celebrated as if it was. It feels to me more like an occasion for some solemnity. A moment of silence, a candle lit. Not fireworks and facepainting.

When 9/11 happened, we were living in one of only two residential buildings in Chicago’s business district. All office buildings were evacuated and closed. Most of our neighbors left. When we took our new baby out for a walk on the preternaturally sunny day, the streets were deserted as in some post-apocalyptic movie. We held our breaths as one solitary plane sliced through the sky over Grant Park while we sat on a bench in the September sun. We were jumpy for weeks afterwards – everyone was. Every loud noise, every phone call made us nervous.

Mr. Spy reminded me this morning of our first anniversary, which was just a couple of weeks after 9/11. The hotel where we’d had our reception gave us a free suite for our anniversary and we packed up the baby and took a cab a few blocks from our house to spend the night somewhere fancy. Sometime late at night, we heard shouting and celebrating in the hall. Our first thought was, “they got Bin Laden.” Because even though it was our anniversary, that was the only thing we could think of celebrating then. They hadn’t, of course. It was a wedding party coming back from their reception, just as we had done the year before in a totally different world.

At that moment, I might have felt differently about the celebrating. The losses of 9/11 were still so fresh and raw. The hours I spent trying to track down Cranky to make sure she was okay. The horror stories we heard from friends and friends of friends. The death toll published in the paper of the Connecticut town where I grew up. I might have celebrated the delivery from the overwhelming fear we felt at that moment.

But many more have died since. The situation has gotten infinitely more complicated. There is innocence lost all around. So while it may, in fact, be a kind of victory, it doesn’t feel like one to me. So I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t feel like waving a flag today. I’ll be the one in the back of the cafe reading Camus.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2011 11:41 am

    I knew I could count on you to reflect many of my own reactions to this day. Walking to the bus stop this morning I was listening to the local NPR station’s Boston report. There was a story about a spontaneous rally from downtown Boston, where people were loudly singing “God Bless America.” I actually gagged, which I didn’t know I could do while walking at the same time.

    Rather than pick up Camus, though, I think I’ll just listen to Steve Earle & Emmylou’s new records. Thank you SO much for your words, which are balm.

  2. May 2, 2011 11:45 am

    Reading some of the comments about the news has made me think of the phrase “savage glee.” Some people feel more savage than others, I guess. I’m not wild about the images of people celebrating death, but I like the wet blankets even less; they’re sanctimonious and irritating.

    I’m not calling your measured response a wet blanket, by the way.

  3. May 2, 2011 11:53 am

    Thank you, Joy. And may I also recommend Sarah Jarosz’s new album, out on 5/17 and currently streaming on NPR?

    Jeanne, I’m feeling a little like a wet blanket today, which is why I’m keeping my mouth shut over at Facebook. I do understand the need for some celebration. I really do, in part because at a different point in time, I might have felt like celebrating myself. So I’m hiding my opinions over here where no one is obligated to read them. And thanks for the message about the trombone. I need to consult my info and then I’ll be in touch!

  4. freshhell permalink
    May 2, 2011 12:11 pm

    I was feeling the same way this morning. Dusty and I went to the orthodontists, listening to NPR, and we were both a little puzzled by the “savage glee” (excellent phrase, Jeanne) expressed by people. For me, I’m not sure this is particularly good news because I fear the backlash. We both wondered how this event would be viewed years from now and I couldn’t help thinking about the assassination that set off WWI.

  5. May 2, 2011 12:12 pm

    What passes for “patriotism” these days is a far cry from the way I feel. I remember the first American flag I saw here after living in Europe for a year. The Fourth of July that year. The day of Obama’s election win. So many other days when I felt a deep pride in our country. But I feel ashamed of so much around me that passes for patriotism. Instead of getting involved, I get quiet and hope it will pass. Probably not a good response.

  6. readersguide permalink
    May 2, 2011 1:21 pm

    I totally agree. I think it’s appalling. It’s funny — several of us at work this morning have carefully felt out that we feel the same way. So there appear to be more of us than we think. if that’s any consolation.

  7. readersguide permalink
    May 2, 2011 1:22 pm

    And it’s not like we’re going to get rid of the patriot act, or not have to be strip searched at the airport now, either. We’re not going back.

  8. Lass permalink
    May 2, 2011 4:16 pm

    I am not waving a flag around or singing songs, but I am glad he’s dead for nor more simple (or personal) reason than the email I received today from a friend whose husband died in the attacks – it has brought her some closure. I get that, and I am glad SHE got that.

  9. Lass permalink
    May 2, 2011 4:21 pm

    *no* more simple, not *nor*.

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