If I believed in God– and I’ve always wished that I could, but I can’t– I would imagine that he would weep to see what had become of His children.
Since I don’t believe in God, I have to look at today’s events through the only approximation to that kind of divine and mystical relationship we have in the human realm: the bond between a parent and child.
I won’t lie to you: I was pleased when I learned that Osama bin Laden had been killed. My adrenaline surged as I imagined the righteous power of SEAL Team 6 sweeping through his compound like a wave of death, cold, efficient, and just. Enviously, I imagined the commando who scored the kill, professionally and with cold detachment squeezing the trigger. I thought of all the death and destruction that bin Laden precipitated, and I thought of his death: this is good.
A day or so later, I read a story about boys who lived in the Pakistani town that sheltered the terrorist. They would play cricket or football in the field next to his compound, and when they accidentally sent a ball over the fortified walls, the guards would pay the boys 100 rupees (more than the cost of the lost ball) instead of allowing them to retrieve their ball. Apparently, the boys lost a lot of balls.
The thought of these boys simply playing a game, conducting their little ball-pay scam with innocent childish mischeviousness reminded me that despite all of the cultural, political, and economic walls that separate us from our fellow humans, in the state of childhood, these walls don’t exist. This reminded me of the story of a little Ethiopian girl, terribly disfigured, who was sent to Canada for facial reconstructive surgery. Until she was about five years old, none of her playmates treated her any differently. And I remembered how my own young daughter, watching a black singer on TV, said “Mommy! That man look just like daddy!” (I’m white).
Innocence is a fragile, tenuous, and fleeting state. As I contemplated innocence, I began to consider Osama bin Laden. At one point, he was an innocent child. At one point, his mother held him lovingly, and he looked upon her with the eyes of innocent childhood, as his protection, his deity. What happened? How can a child be so perverted, so twisted, as to turn into a demon such as that man became?
It’s midnight, and I have to turn off the news. The images are too much. Young men and women, drinking and screaming and jostling and cheering, pouring through the streets with youthful and irresponsible glee and mob energy, hoisting signs, some less crude, some more, cheering the death of bin Laden.
Many of these young people were young children when the war was declared, ten years ago, with the impact of the first airliner.
I remember that morning. I was only 21. I had slept in. I had a class that afternoon (International Relations, funny enough). I went downstairs, and my mother told me that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I asked her, was it an accident? A moment later, the impact of the second jet wordlessly answered my question.
My girlfriend at the time had a sister who worked in the WTC. That morning was spent desperately trying to contact her, or to get news of her fate.
And then I saw it. The streets of foreign lands cheering the deaths of scores of civilians in the cities of America. I was revolted. How dare they? How dare they celebrate the murderers who cut short these innocent lives?
And now, I look at the crowds in the stadiums and the streets, and I ask– have we lost our innocence, too? Have we sunk as low as those who we reviled on that clear autumn morning ten years ago?
I don’t know how I feel about this evil man’s death, and I certainly don’t know how I ought to feel. I look at my children, at their innocent faces. I look at the children on the news reports, in third world countries, countries that my country is at war with, and I see the same innocence. I don’t know how to feel.
I am tormented by a dreadful question: has my fate been sealed, my fall from innocence completed, with the celebration of a vile murderer’s death, just as surely as his fate was sealed, his fall completed, with the commission of his barbaric acts?