Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I was in Ms. Bennet's English class

Initially I was going to write a post about how my year of sports greatness appears to be over this morning, but given the significance of the day it feels as if that might be inappropriate. I will write something about it tomorrow with my usual bit of sports obsession and snark, but today instead I will re-post one of the few things I've ever written here that was entirely non-sports-centric. At some point I will post what I wrote about attending the Giants-49ers game last Veterans Day weekend, which deals heavily with 9/11 and the years after it, but due to time constraints that will have to wait, possibly until next September.

Instead, here is my post from May 2, 2011, the day after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden:

Originally written May 2, 2011, titled after Bruce Springsteen's "Waiting on a Sunny Day."

I was telling dirty jokes in my study hall with Brian Caliccio when the planes hit the towers on September 11th. It's truly bizarre years later to look back at that exact moment, to know what was happening and not have had a clue. In fact I didn't even get a whiff of the attacks until I walked to my fifth-period English class when on the way there, Harry Shuldman stopped me to warn of concern that a plane might crash into the school. I was blissfully unaware, and being my snarky self -- and in a big Manchurian Candidate phase -- I told him to "play a little solitaire" continued to class, and at that moment my friend Mike Wong told me the news.

I was naturally baffled and incredulous to it all, as was another classmate, Anoosh Montasser, who like me refused to believe this was feasible, but I soon found out it was and then found that the entire school was being released at noon though, for some reason, we were never told why.

The details of that day are permanently etched in my brain and will be until I die or Alzheimer's gets the better of me some decades down the road, and while I was fortunate enough to lose no one personally connected to me that day, it was and still is impossible to think that anyone in the New York area didn't lose something, be it a loved one, their innocence or their naivete. This was a day no one who lived near this city will ever forget for better or worse.

Last night it was impossible not to have my mind go back to that day when I heard the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a firefight with U.S. forces. There is an immediate part of me that wanted to relish vindictively. After all, this was the man who orchestrated the greatest horror our country had seen in my lifetime, and anyone who has lived in New York knows that it is a weight that sits on our shoulders -- always -- even if we don't realize it.

I first became aware of the news, like any good Mets fan, while I was in the middle of watching the Mets play the Phillies on Sunday Night Baseball. The game itself wasn't where the news came from, a friend IMed me to tell me to turn on the news, but watching it through that lens was as interesting a picture of the American reaction as any. In no uncertain terms, the visuals of fans chanting U-S-A as the word spread through the crowd was highly surreal, and it took me back to a Mets-Braves game I attended on the first weekend that baseball was back in New York after the attacks. Throughout the game, montages of first responders were shown on the jumbotron and jingoistic cheers rippled through Shea Stadium.

If the hair didn't stand on your neck, you weren't human.

But what happened last night was different for me. Unabashed national pride was the obvious reaction after September 11th, but last night was a far more complex emotion to interpret, particularly since nearly a decade has passed since 9/11. So much has happened both in my own personal life and the world -- though the Mets still haven't won the World Series and the Knicks still haven't won a playoff game. To be someone whose formative years -- high school and college -- came in the shadow of 9/11 this is a highly significant and intense event to acknowledge and the sanctimonious and vindictive immediate reaction most would, and did have was to celebrate. I don't fault people for celebrating. To take joy in society being rid of a monster is human. But to take joy in a man's death is a different matter, one I'm not sure I am comfortable with.

Furthermore, while many scenes of people cheering in massive crowds with American flags were uncomfortable for me to witness -- particularly since tons of college students cheering and high-fiving that were seven years old in some cases when the attacks happened seemed ignorant and disingenuous to me -- I can't say I was bereft of some satisfaction.

I don't like the idea of celebrating a man's death, but in my mind for points of justification the thought is clear. Osama bin Laden deserved to die. When you deliberately murder thousands of innocents you have lost your right to be part of a free society, and while bin Laden's death doesn't bring men, women or children back who passed away at his behest, it does bring a measure of justice to the occasion. This was an evil man, who got 14 more years on this Earth than he deserved, and I say 14 because he lost his chance to participate in the circus that is humanity with killings that took place even before he orchestrating bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

To relish the salving of death with more death is odd, but we're all prone to a human response, and I know that I uncomfortably cracked open a beer to mark the moment as I watch President Obama's speech to the nation late last night. I wasn't sure if it was the right move, but as a friend of mine who pays more attention to the War on Terror than anyone else I know said, this was an execution of justice. Today is a good day.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. I'm still bothered by the videos I saw of hordes of college students, most of them probably drunk, screaming in celebration. Images of firefighters cheering the news bother me less so, as they understand the price that was paid by the colleagues and brothers that lost their lives in the World Trade Center. But to ignore the obvious catharsis this was for most, 10 years in the making, would be foolish.

In a somewhat odd twist for me, the first sporting event in New York after bin Laden's death will be a Mets-Giants game on Tuesday night, a game that I, and Mike Wong, who was the first to break the news of the attacks to me, had already made plans to attend. The Mets played a memorable role in the recovery of New York's psyche in the weeks' following the attacks, and I'm interested to see what the scene will be like, but it's odd that life sometimes has these full circle types of events.

Either way, I, and I'm sure others, are left with a bizarre and uncomfortable feeling of satisfaction through it all. As kids we're always told that two wrongs don't make a right, and one would have to assume that murder begetting murder falls under that heading. But as I keep telling myself and those around me, I am comfortable with the feeling and understanding that this is justice carried out. Whether or not this is victory in the War on Terror is subject to debate, and people are quickly jumping to both sides of the argument, but regardless of what happens now, there is no denying that all of us have witnessed a moment we will remember and tell our children about.

I got home at noon on September 11th and immediately began calling my brother, who was a junior at New York University. Phone calls were nearly impossible to get into the city in the early hours, and I got nothing but busy signals as I started to panic, not knowing where my brother was or if he was ok -- though in retrospect it seems irrational to think he might have been near the financial district. I called my father next, who told me immediately that Elliott was ok -- he had sent my parents an e-mail -- and he then told me words that stuck with me. They were simply: "You're going to remember this day for the rest of your life."

Truer words. It was no exaggeration to say that 9/11 was the JFK assassination for my generation, but what the death of bin Laden becomes in stature is unsure, as is the impact that it will have on all of our lives, though one newscaster this morning called it my generation's V-E Day. I think that might be a bit extreme. But it's hard not to think that the world is a better place today than it was yesterday.

And as I walked to work this morning, there was no doubt in my mind that New York has its chin up a little higher than usual.

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