Maya was not quite 18 months old on September 11, 2001, and as such has no real memory of that day. Ben of course has only heard stories. They both know about the World Trade Center and that some people who don’t like the United States for complicated reasons involving religion, politics and power were behind the attacks. Before today they’d heard of Osama Bin Laden, but could not have gone into any detail about who he was.
This was a conscious decision Joshua and I made, due in part to the fact that we live in New York and the story of 9/11 is a scary one. We didn’t want fear of the extraordinary to have a place in our home or our kids’ lives. And although Maya and Ben both know how fortunate they are to live in a country where, for the most part, conflicting views are tolerated if not always welcome, we don’t subscribe to the chest-thumping ‘love it or leave it’ brand of patriotism that always seems to rule the day in the wake of national tragedy or the midst of war.
My kids were still awake last night when we heard the news from Joshua that Bin Laden was dead. He’d worked late at our store and heard it from a taxi driver on the way home. I was, ironically, watching an episode of the BBC spy series “MI-5” (MI-5 is the British equivalent to the CIA) in which they were trying to stop a terrorist attack by Iranian militants. I switched from a fictional scene to a real one, turning on the television and listening to the reports, waiting for the President to come out and make it official. The kids watched for a minute or two and then disappeared into their rooms, having more pressing business to attend to. Ben lost another tooth yesterday and had to prepare for a visit from the Tooth Fairy, and Maya was working on something on the computer. Joshua, who served in the Israeli army in the early 80’s, spending the bulk of his time in Lebanon under fire, is always slightly underwhelmed (I know that’s not a real word – but it should be) by such operations; this is, after all, what the CIA and the Special Forces are supposed to do.
This morning there were more details of the operation available, and reading them was like reading a scene straight out of “Alias”, with the CIA overseeing the operation from afar as Navy Seals invaded a compound in Pakistan and killed public enemy #1, Osama Bin Laden after a 40 minute firefight. I thought about what and how much to say to the kids regarding this stunning and improbable event (to me at least). After breakfast we looked at the photos of Bin Laden from the Times, replayed parts of the President’s speech where he talked about how they’d first gotten the intelligence last August and spent the interim nine months confirming it before sending in the Seals, and got down my book “This is New York”, which is a massive compilation of photos taken on and just after 9/11. They looked and listened and then Ben asked to play a game of Battleship.
It’s ok that they don’t completely comprehend what the death of Bin Laden means to many people. Their response is in keeping with not only their age, but also how we live and the things Joshua and I emphasize vs. the things we do not; love, empathy and understanding over hate, judgment and revenge. I have no sympathy for the Bin Ladens of the world and their misguided views, but I won’t be out dancing in the streets in celebration at their demise, either.
A bad man who killed a lot of people is gone. We are happy none of the U.S. soldiers in the operation were killed along with him. We are sad for all of those who’ve lost their lives in the wars since 9/11. We wish everyone could stop fighting and see that we are all one, and we choose not to hate others or take pride in revenge.
That’s really all there is to say.