I should be in bed sleeping right now. As the mother of an 18th month old who sleeps poorly, I treasure every hour I can close my eyes and recoup some of the energy I spend getting through the day. Instead, I am restless; my mind is cluttered and my heart troubled. This morning, my husband and I woke up, dressed our daughter, made breakfast, and prepared for the day. We loaded ourselves into the car to respectively head to work and a children’s playgroup at the library. We turned on the radio in the car, to listen to NPR, as is our habit, and heard, for the first time, the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed the night before.
Nearly a decade after the morning my husband and I woke up on our one month wedding anniversary to watch the twin towers crumble on the television, we were yet again moved to tears by the bookmark event of the death of the man who started it all. It felt surreal, that after all this time, after two wars, countless deaths on domestic and foreign soil of civilians and military personnel alike, after a failing economy, tumultuous political climate, after all the pain that we as Americans have encountered related to that day, to finally have a moment of closure. Neither of us is so naïve as to believe the so-called “war on terror” is over, but to know that the man connected to so much loss and suffering was dead, was a cathartic release for the heartbreak we remembered feeling on 9/11.
I know my daughter will never know what it was like, those days after we were attacked on our own soil. I know she will read about it, and perhaps empathize, but she will never experience the sense of connection we had as Americans, bonded for a few brief moments in our collective loss. Immediately after 9/11, we looked to each other for comfort and support. Now, we could not set aside our political perspectives for a single moment of closure. My heart aches as I hear the conspiracy theories, the blame for the difficulties of the country being continually attributed to one politician or another based on party affiliations, and the praise for a successful mission withheld from those same individuals for the same reason. We have so much anger with each other.
Perhaps Osama bin Laden did more than he hoped to accomplish. The events following 9/11: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the stream of misinformation provided to the American people, the sacrifice of our men and women overseas, and the further polarization of our political parties has put us on the defensive and made us weary. Not only because for the average American, the struggle to find a good paying job, to own a home, to educate our children, to care for our sick, not to mention “pursue happiness” is so challenging these days, but because we have bought into the lie that we need to choose sides. We have listened to politicians and news media who have alternate agendas. We are bombarded by constant conflicting streams of information that are difficult to sort through, so we filter it by what feels safe. As is human nature, we all believe the people we want to believe. We believe the people who project the beliefs we treasure and choose to believe what they tell us because we need to support the things that make up the core of who we are. In the process, perhaps we the people have lost sight of the true lessons of 9/11. We are settling for division.
Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida’s actions created an opportunity for partisanship to grow and fester as we became divided about how to address potential future terrorist threats. His actions will continue to have an effect so long as we continue to further polarize as a country along partisan lines. We need to evaluate all information carefully, be thoughtful rather than seek to shore up our initial tendencies towards a particular perspective, hold our politicians and media accountable to telling us the truth, and feel empowered as a nation to deal with the many issues we face. We have the power as a people to find our way together if that is what we truly desire. We have so many resources that are unavailable to people around the world, and despite our differences, we are the most diverse nation in existence to live relatively successfully (and comparatively) in harmony. We have the choice to further create conflict in the days ahead with our words and actions or we can start fresh and tackle the next challenge together, with responsible discussion, with respect for those who hold opposing viewpoints. If we all seek the truth rather than that which is comfortable, if we seek to listen with open ears instead of jumping to conclusions that let us reside in the meager solace of self-righteousness, and we are solution focused rather than self-promoting, perhaps we can take steps forward from today. Maybe we can truly begin healing. If not, I fear we will continue the path that Osama bin Laden further nudged us along, and that saddens me out of sleep. Let us have peace.
*Author’s note: This was written on May 2nd but posted today.