september 11, 2001. east hall auditorium, university of michigan. tuesday, the second week of my sophomore year. it’s the end of my cognitive psych class with the incomparable thad polk. soojung and i are getting up to leave when a girl runs to the front of the auditorium yelling, “wait, wait!”
“if this is another sorority girl promoting her rush event,” i think to myself, “i’m going to lose it.”
but i am almost instantaneously shamed by my thought, as this student in near-hysterics declares that a plane flew into one of the buildings of the world trade center, and a second plane has just flown into the other one, and they are burning. soojung and i look at each other and file out of the auditorium somberly with the rest of the class. we walk down south u to south quad in a daze, the sunny blue sky belying the melancholy mood of the campus. somewhere along the way, we learn that the university has canceled classes for the rest of the day because of the national tragedy. this is an appropriate move for a university with as many students from new york and new jersey as michigan has. this is also when i realize how big a deal this is, because the university doesn’t cancel classes for anything.
i go to the 3rd floor, where my freshman friends — sharon, sidney, sunny, maddy, amy, emily — live. i walk into the room where all of them are congregated, sit on the floor, and watch the news coverage in shock. sidney sits next to me and puts her head on my shoulder.
later, i go up to the 5th floor, where some of my classmates live. several of them are from new york city. one of them, jung, stares blankly at a small tv, cell phone in hand. he has not been able to reach his family. i give him a hug, and he does not seem to notice.
that afternoon, i go to couzens for a prayer meeting with my ccf class and the acf sophomores. i see cindy, wish her a happy birthday, and give her a card. from now on, her birthday will be connected with the greatest tragedy to ever take place on american soil.
as the days unfold, countless friends have stories to tell. a friend who had summer internship at the WTC that ended only days before the attacks. a friend whose aunt had tickets on one of the doomed flights — who decided not to fly because of a bad feeling. my own aunt and uncle, who walked with throngs of people from manhattan all the way back home to queens. friends who attended stuyvesant, the prestigious high school mere blocks away from the WTC, whose friends and former classmates had witnessed the horror up close, the planes and flames and tiny figures falling from the building….
may 1, 2011. three time zones away. a sunday evening in the last few months of my 6th and final year of graduate school. my husband and i get home from our evening church service. a curry has been slow-cooking in our kitchen all afternoon. while robert takes care of the finishing touches, i sit at my laptop and finish an email before checking facebook. at the top of my news feed lies a status update from justin that reads: “Wow. Bin Laden. Ten years.” there’s a similar status update from armen under that, then another from my brother. then comes a gchat from mike telling me the news. i turn on the tv just as my sister-in-law calls, returning our call from earlier in the day. it’s her birthday. we chat for a while, and then r and i unmute the tv and watch as we eat our curry. we discuss the ramifications of the news, and we retire to the couch to watch our favorite president address the nation.
my feelings are, not surprisingly, mixed. on one hand, we’ve been after this guy for 10 years, we avenged 9/11, justice has been done, etc. etc. etc. and this gives obama a much-needed political boost, though how exactly it changes the narrative of his presidency remains to be seen. but on the other hand, what does this actually mean? bin laden was the leader of al-qaeda, but there will surely be another to replace him. the organization will still run without him, perhaps with more urgency now that they have some avenging of their own to do. his death is more a symbolic victory than anything else, and we can’t be any less vigilant now than we were yesterday. if anything, we might need to be a little more, at least in the short term.
and morally speaking, how appropriate it is for us to celebrate death? to celebrate the perpetuation of this cycle of violence? i know that we didn’t start it, but something about the high-fiving and cheering and “U-S-A! U-S-A!” feels uncomfortable for me. does God love america more than other nations, americans more than other people? does God rejoice in the death of any part of his creation, no matter how broken?
do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble, or else the Lord will see it and be displeased — proverbs 24.17-18a
let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone — john 8.7
have i any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? — ezekiel 18.23
so i will sit in my mixed feelings and contemplate how much has changed in 10 years. nearly all of my years in college and graduate school have been spent chasing this man. the world is such a different place now.