Mark and I volunteered at Ground Zero shortly after 9/11. Mark flew out as one of the first official chaplains allowed on the scene, while there was still ash in the air and hope of survivors. About a week later, he returned and I went with him, finding the scene much more somber and mechanized. We spent some of our days down at what was referred to as “the pile”, an eight-story heap of debris, making ourselves available for counseling with the men charged with the task of finding remains. We also spent some time at the morgue, helping to process the paperwork of families coming to identify the remains of loved ones, and we spent time at the pier, where displaced people were coming for assistance.
I can’t pretend to know what it was like to lose someone that day, or to know the trauma of surviving such a frightening experience. But I do know the horrors that we saw during our time there . . . the sights, the smells and the stories I will never forget. At the end of our time there, we got to return home to our family and friends, and to a home and a city that was not effected. But we have always felt a deep connection to the people affected by 9/11.
Tonight I got home from my big show in LA, kissed my kids goodnight, and settled into the sofa to see the latest banter on twitter. As soon as I did, I saw the tweets that people were waiting for Obama to make a statement about Osama Bin Laden’s death.
What a surreal night . . . to observe with the world a major moment in history. I watched the speech at home in my pj’s, and vacillated between a swelling pride for our military, and the fears of what might come as a result Would this incite more venom towards Muslims? Would there be retaliatory attacks on our troops? I also watched the typical twitter cycle of news: people share information, people make jokes about the information, people scold each other about making jokes, people make poignant and emotional commentary about information, people retweet each other, and, if you follow lots of other Christians like I do, people quote bible verses.
Mark had a different experience altogether, since instead of sitting home on twitter, he was out at a bar hanging with a friend who is in town from London. He said the bar had the televisions on with the volume all the way up, and that a hush fell over the room when Obama started speaking. At the end of the speech, the bar erupted in applause.
I know that a lot can be said about whether or not it’s appropriate to celebrate another person’s death. There is some cognitive dissonance there for me. I saw this quote tonight, and appreciated it:
There's a big difference between "justice" and "vengeance." Justice is about about making sure people get what they deserve, Vengeance is about delighting in the suffering of another person. I pray that we Americans can respond to the news about Bin Laden in a way that celebrates and honors justice, not just vengeance.
I don’t rejoice in the death of another person, and I also have no illusions that any threats to America are put to rest by the death of one man. But I do feel a sense of pride in our military, and I’m happy that the people who lost loved ones might have a little more closure this evening.
I was also struck by the way people of both sides of the oft-polarized political spectrum where united today. As they say, there is no bond like a common enemy, and I appreciated hearing about the phone call Obama made to Bush, and also hearing Bush’s remarks:
"This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done."
It’s nice to see everyone on the same team for once, right?
I also appreciated Obama’s emphasis:
"We must also reaffirm that the United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims."
I have to say, I thought tonight’s revelation was quite a cap on the last few weeks of birth certificate drama drummed up by Donald Trump. When Obama handed over the long-form in an attempt to squelch the rumors, he quipped that he had more important matters to attend to.
Indeed he did.
And since I’m a bit awash in patriotism at the moment, I’m going to post Obama’s speech from the White House Correspondents Dinner that happened Saturday night. It was HILARIOUS. I think he did a better roast of Donald Trump than the one Comedy Central televised. And anyone who can root out Osama Bin Laden and make a Tupac and Biggie reference in the course of a 24-hour period has my respect for life.
Where were you when you heard the news? What was your reaction?