Why bin Laden’s Death Matters

There we sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the TV screen. My husband, our son and I watched in silence as President Obama calmly and resolutely spoke the words that most of us had given up hoping we’d hear: Osama bin Laden is dead.

I still remember, so clearly, what it was like when the world fell apart in 2001. This was the way I started my column in the immediate aftermath of the attacks:

When you’re a journalist, a phone ringing in the dead of night is not to be ignored. It is usually something unpleasant. Sometimes catastrophic. That is true of the very early morning hours of Tuesday, Sept. 11.

You too remember exactly where you were and what you were doing on that awful day. For those of us who were old enough to understand what was going on, 9/11 is a scar seared into our hearts. It was a time of fear and uncertainty and unimaginable sadness. As I said at the time:

The same words are used over and over. Horrific. Devastating. Catastrophic. Evil. All are accurate. All are inadequate. There is no way to exaggerate this story, no way to sensationalize it. It is simply the worst thing we have ever seen.

Fast-forward nearly one full decade to last Monday evening. Fifty-six million Americans watched as Mr. Obama began his speech with these words:

“Good evening.†Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children.”

And I felt a chill and a rushing sense of … what?

Relief? Elation? Sadness? Pride? I didn’t know.

Mr. Obama spoke eloquently of our national nightmare, the icy cold shock of innocence demolished in the flames and catastrophic destruction of the Twin Towers. We remember as if it were yesterday our tears when we learned of the third plane brought down in Shanksville, Pa. “Let’s roll!” became our heartbroken battle cry as we struggled to understand how so much evil could be directed at us. “Why?” we asked. Why us? And then: What now?

We did recover. Of course we did. Many even forgot what it felt like to have our hearts ripped to shreds and to live in fear. A country that was united in grief and patriotism after the attacks eventually splintered again, perhaps even worse than before. We went back to caring about reality shows and worrying about money and squabbling over the president’s birth certificate.

But there was always that little aching scab over a wound that never healed.

Until Monday.

In my 2001 column, I wrote about determination, the confusion, the controlled chaos in the newsroom as we all worked feverishly to gather information and get it on the air. Our training kicked in – keeping emotions at bay as we worked together to make sense of the incomprehensible acts of terror. And at the end of that long, frenetic, exhausting day, I wrote these words:

Those who are able to go home have time, finally, to reflect on the day’s events. A hot shower, a glass of wine and maybe, eventually, a troubled sleep. But first, the tears.

On Sunday, May 1, 2011, I cried again when I heard the president conclude with these words:

“The cause of securing our country is not complete.†But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to.†That is the story of our history – whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people or the struggle for equality for all our citizens – our commitment to stand up for our values abroad and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

“Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are:†one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I do not like the word “closure.” We will never get back the people who died or the less complicated world we lost on Sept. 11, 2001.

But at least now, in 2011, we can finally say that justice has been done.