Unlike most of my undergraduate cohorts, I was in high school on Sept. 11, 2001. I remember sitting in class watching the horror unfold on television, and I recall thinking the world had changed forever. Later I joined the army and spent many months overseas on missions best described to others as "counterterrorism." On Sunday night, I was on an airplane when I learned of Osama bin Laden's death. When the captain informed the passengers the face of terrorism had met his maker, the cabin erupted in a brief volley of clapping and cheering.
When we landed, a lone television in the quiet terminal was broadcasting President Barack Obama's address. Passengers stood there, frozen, listening to our president as the glow of the television bounced off their faces. While waiting at the luggage terminal, I learned through Facebook and Twitter that people were celebrating on the streets of Washington and downtown College Park. I went home though, because it had been a long day, and I was tired. I wasn't sure why, but the hullabaloo made me sort of uncomfortable.
So that night I lay in bed, trying to restore order to my brain. I wasn't happy so much as grateful — not that bin Laden was dead per se, but that he was over. How he died or even whether he died seemed unimportant. For 10 years, I thought, we had been swinging at that stupid piñata, and we finally hit it. But along the way we destroyed just about everything else in the room. In those 10 years, we've lost about 6,000 service members. We've spent about a trillion dollars. We've overlooked our own human rights standards in the name of justice.
Now is not the time to dance in the streets, but I understand why people did it. To me there's a distinct generational line that was created on 9/11. Undergraduates at this university were generally between the ages of 8 and 12 on that day, and while they certainly have memories preceding 9/11, the memories are of their lives, not life in general. Children are by nature self-centered and unable to really understand anything beyond their own lives, so anyone who was still a child on 9/11 doesn't really know the world as it was before that day.
As we all know, the post-9/11 world is one of body scanners and casualties, Ground Zero and threat levels. The people partying outside the White House never knew the innocence of a time when our country was riding the dot-com wave of economic and military invincibility. So they danced. They waved flags and sang songs about America as they celebrated the death of a man who stole a part of their childhood. I think that's fair.
"Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote. Those of us who had grown up before 9/11 have the advantage of knowing what we lost on that fateful day. We know that now is a time not for jubilation, but for solace. I'm reminded of a quiet song by Norah Jones, "The Long Day Is Over," which deals with the mélange of emotions at the end of a long day. Her smoky voice elicits the final glowing embers found in a peaceful pre-dawn fire as she sings: "Feeling tired/ By the fire/ The long day is over."
This day is indeed over but, as always, the end of one day is the beginning of another. It too will be taxing and arduous. I hope the revelers are prepared.
Christopher Haxel is a junior English major. He can be reached at haxel at umdbk dot com.