For nearly ten years, we have all been haunted by the words, immortalized by Alan Jackson, of the song, "Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?". I'm sure, for most of us, we fit into one of the categories of which Jackson sang when he spoke of "teaching a class of innocent children, or driving down some cold interstate". We all remember that fateful day, September 11, 2001. The day our lives, and the world, changed in an instant. A 'relative' instant. I'm sure it didn't feel like 'an instant' for the people trapped inside the hijacked planes or in the World Trade Center towers. That, for them, must have felt like an eternity. How many of us, show of hands, remembers rushing home (after calling our families) only to be glued to the television.....riveted....for hours as they replayed the searing images of those planes. Those incredibly large, fast-moving planes flying into the glass and steel of the Towers...only to watch the pieces of glass and concrete fly apart like a pinata slapped by a stick. We watched in horror as the smoke billowed from their gaping wounds, certain that the NYPD and NYFD would arrive in time to save the day. They had to - it's what they do. While hundreds rushed out of these buildings filled with smoke and debris, men and women rushed IN. They climbed the stairs as others came down, knowing they could reach the lives stranded above in time. They couldn't. They didn't. Then, as we watched, transfixed and disbelieving, they fell. They came crashing down as if someone had poured a giant glass of water on a sandcastle. They disappeared before our eyes....and we wept. For the souls that were on those planes, in the Towers, and their saviours that would not reach them in time. A nation, collectively, mourned...and then, something miraculous happened. We spoke more kindly to each other. We spoke to strangers, we were gentler with our families, we.....cared. I remember that time and, as if it were yesterday, remember the collective soul of a nation reborn. I cannot, to this day, remember a time when I saw more united States flags flying from the front porches of homes. We were as one then.....and our resolve to 'right this wrong' was felt by us all. We held benefits and concerts. Prime-time television aired a two-hour special with some of the biggest names in show business. I remember - I bought the DVD. We remember the President in a school in Florida hastily exiting so he could manage the crisis...and, for the first time in our lives, a sky void of air traffic. For days, we looked to the sky and heard not a sound of jet engines, nor saw the faint glint of a plane as the sun reflected off its' steel body. It was an exceptional, different time...and one we will never forget.
Osama bin Laden - a name we became all too familiar with that day. Kind, gentle people spoke words of hate and death. Given the opportunity, I'm not sure an 80-year old grandmother might not have beheaded him in a town square for all to see. We saw a side of ourselves that we did not want to see, ever, on that day. I am reminded of a line from (again) The West Wing (Aaron Sorkin is one hell of a writer so he deserves the credit) - More than any time in recent history, America's destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedom and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people's strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive. We have risen mightily to master that specific moment...and will continue. Yesterday, May 1, 2011, marked our arrival at one point on that journey as we heard the President announce, late on a Sunday evening, the words we had longed to hear - Osama bin Laden is dead. Some thought we'd never hear those words in our lifetime. He had managed to elude and escape us for almost ten years. I assume he thought we did not know the meaning of the word 'perseverance'. I assume, too, he forgot about the Navy SEALS. Severe error in judgement, apparently. For it was SEAL Team 6, based in Norfolk, VA, that was his final enemy and combatant. The SEALS, who are almost mythological beings and the closest we have to super-heroes, were sent to take out this heartless, cowardly being. They accomplished their mission with surgical precision, suffering zero American casualties in the process. This is what they do. Osama bin Laden is dead.
For years, we of this generation heard the stories of how our Vietnam veterans were treated upon their return. We, as a generation (I am proud to say) have learned from the mistakes of our fathers. We are proud of our military and understand and appreciate they are performing a thankless task. They do it for a meager salary while they miss first steps and holidays, proms and graduations. They do it for us, their fellow Americans. In a time when our government was debating and playing politics with the federal budget, they face making half their usual income. How dare we? We see them now, though, and we thank them...publicly. I remember the Budweiser commercial as military personnel walked through an airport and the crowd began to applaud. We owe it to them and they deserve it. I have told the story, countless times, when I met the father of a sailor lost on the USS Cole (another of bin Laden's criminal acts). How his eyes welled up with tears when I spoke to him and thanked him for giving what most cannot imagine - the life of a child in the service to country. It moved me...and I implore each of you to do the same. Thank them publicly. Buy them a drink or a meal. It is, as I said, a small price to pay for knowing they allow our children to grow up a bit safer in a world filled with more terrorists. These are the heroes of a generation and no 'thanks' will ever be enough. The brave men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard for things we cannot imagine. The absolute beauty of the most highly-trained and specialized is that their efforts will, most likely, never be known. We will probably never know the name of the person that fired his weapon and killed bin Laden.....and they are okay with that. They do this, not for notoriety, but for serving their country. To me, it is the definition of nobility. I admire and respect them....and we all should.
I've heard others, too, take to social media such as Facebook and Twtter to either praise the President or curse his predecessor. They want to chastise and curse Donald Trump for belaboring the birth certificate issue. They want to say that president Obama did what President Bush could not. Please, for the love of God and country, try to remember that this was a joint effort. Neither President Bush nor President Obama caught and killed bin Laden. They were mere pieces of the puzzle that allowed our collective military and intelligence agencies to find and exterminate him. Let us, please, not play politics with this situation as it was a day for our country, collectively, to breathe a little easier. We must stop pitting one side against the other and find compromise for the common good. Rather than deciding what you won't let the other have, why not figure out a solution that best suits all involved. Then we'd be happy. Today is for rejoicing in that we have, in many ways, caused a major setback for terrorists worldwide. A cowardly man they called their leader is dead. By most reports, he used a woman as a human shield or she took a bullet for him. Either way, terrorists fight in a cowardly manner. My opinion...and I believe it.
Do I think this means the War on Terror is over? Hardly. Do I think there will be retribution? Most likely. I will say this, though - we have been told, since 9/11/01, that the only way terrorists win is if we allow them to terrorize us. Think about that. Their sole purpose is to strike fear in the hearts of Americans. I think we have the ability to change the War on Terror within every American.....and all we have to do is take a lesson from the Navy SEALS that dropped in to Pakistan yesterday. Yes, there were potential life-endings dangers awaiting them. They went in anyway. If we refuse to be terrorized and refuse to be scared, they cannot win. I think we can all agree, we are born to die. Some will die younger than others, some will live long lives, but we will ALL eventually die. I'm not saying any of us wants to die.....I'm saying we all will die. Why should we allow someone crazy and cowardly to scare us into leading lives as hermits? Why will we allow them to make us live in fear? Yes, there is a possibility that we could, yet again, face a terrorist attack on US soil. We have put systems in place to try to minimize those chances but it could, indeed, happen. By the way.....we put stop lights and signs telling you when to 'walk' and 'don't walk' at intersections. People still get hit because someone ignored them or ran the light. You will never be 100% safe. We're talking about irrational people that will gladly take dynamite and strap it to their chest, all in the name of killing Americans. It's been my experience that, if they're THAT crazy, you can't protect yourself anyway. DO NOT let them win.
I thought, too, about how we took to the streets last night cheering for our country. I remember watching this same ritual in the Middle East and wondered, what could ever happen here to cause us to act like that? What events could take place that would cause us to jump around screaming happily that a man was dead? Sadly, I now know. it takes some incredible kind of monster to get us to act that way. We are a more civilized bunch, we Americans. This man, however, brought out the worst in us...and everyone in the world. Fortunately, the United States military got the call to restore some semblance of order to this planet. Hopefully, we can all live our lives free of as much worry as we had, content in the knowledge that there are Soldiers and Sailors, Airmen and Marines willing to protect our country as they always have. I salute them and can say, today, that I am extremely proud of them and of being an American. There's really no place else I'd rather be.......
Until next time..........