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the news yesterday.

May 2, 2011

Image via NYTimes.com

Because she can say it so much more eloquently than I can, I’m reposting my sister’s essay about the news last night that Osama bin Laden had been assassinated. I know there are so many emotions surrounding this news, and there’s a lot that I think about it, but I’m not sure how much of that I want to say. This is better. Please read what my sister, Chelsea, wrote so beautifully:

“Violence is the end to nothing but innocence”

In the early hours of September 11, 2001, I was already in mourning. I awoke and dressed in my nice black pants and a black sweater. They were two items I wore often, but this was the first time I wore them together – a choice made out of propriety rather than fashion.

My grandfather had died two days prior, and I was preparing to attend his funeral that morning. At the age of 12, I was unfamiliar with death, and my thoughts were occupied with questions about what the ceremony would be like. Would my grandpa still look the same? Would people be crying? Would they really put that shiny coffin in the ground forever?

I was in my room fixing my hair or looking for my shoes when Dad came in and said to go watch the TV. “I think we’ve been attacked,” he said.

As I stood alone in the living room, watching the news ticker roll on beneath the image of a flaming skyscraper, I was confused. Television was scripted, packaged, produced. Consumer-friendly. Listening to the news anchors scramble for information with fear behind their voices, I was stirred by the realization that anything could happen in that moment, on camera, for all the world to see.

The second tower was hit, and I watched bodies leap from the burning buildings. I felt as if I had stumbled onto one of those channels I wasn’t allowed to watch. This was rated R. It would give me nightmares. Trying to escape the plume of smoke barreling down upon them, strangers ran for their lives, covering their faces with cloth, eyes bugged out in horror. Somebody should protect me from seeing this. But my parents sat with me in the living room and neither of them moved to change the channel or shield my eyes. Was I old enough for this?

I heard Mom talking to my uncle on our home telephone. The funeral ‑ which was to take place on a military base to honor my grandfather’s service ‑ would be postponed. All bases were closed in response to the national emergency.

National emergency. A phrase that soon became as familiar to me as terrorism, threat levels, airport security, suicide bombers, IEDs and Osama bin Laden.

****

“Are you watching the news?” the text message read. My friend John and I had just been at my house, working to build a garden in my front yard. John returned home at the end of the day, while I retreated to my kitchen to wash dishes.

“No,” I texted back. “What happened?”

“Osama bin Laden is dead.”

I opened my laptop and found a live cable news feed.

Ten years later, our president tells me, “justice has been served.”

****

September 11 was the day that death entered my world. And, much like the news ticker scrolling across the TV screen that day, death has remained ever since, ceaselessly advancing in the background.

Twelve casualties in a suicide bombing in Baghdad.
Three American troops lost in a friendly fire accident.
Twenty-three civilians killed, dozens injured in a bus bombing in London.
Anthrax sent to a political office.
War rages on in northern Africa.
Genocide in Uganda and the Congo.
An unidentified shooter opens fire on an American college campus,
an Amish schoolhouse,
a Texas military base,
a congresswoman in Arizona.
Soldiers descend on a compound in Abottabad.

Osama bin Laden may be dead, but the horror he introduced to my generation has become a virus no assassination can cure. We have been at war for nearly half my life, and I don’t expect it to end any time soon. I have learned to live in a country that is always on its toes, suspicious and fearful of outsiders. In a strange replacement of rights for regulations, I bare myself at the airport for some unnamed security officer who declares that I, the victim, am not in fact the perpetrator.

My grandfather, a decorated veteran of two world wars, sacrificed his health and waged his life in the name of liberty and justice for all. He was not even able to be buried without incident due to the carnage that rages on in our world despite those sacrifices. That tragedy awakens me to a glaring truth: violence is the end to nothing but innocence. I will not contribute to it. Instead I will work in my garden, trying to live in this world as it should be, and not as it is.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Stacey Merchant permalink
    May 3, 2011 7:25 am

    Your sister has a gift…I loved reading her poignant passage. Thank you for sharing.

    • May 3, 2011 9:39 am

      Thanks for reading…she does have a gift. Every time I read this again I want to cry.

  2. May 3, 2011 6:15 pm

    wow. this is absolutely beautiful. so poignant. thank you for sharing. and thank you, chelsea, for writing.

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