Guest columnist Abigail Carter, who lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center, reflects on Osama bin Laden's death and how it doesn't feel like justice for her.
“MAMA, Osama bin Laden is dead! And everyone is celebrating. It’s so weird!” my daughter said. “I know he did bad things, but a man is dead. I don’t see why they should be celebrating.”
Not words I would expect coming from a girl whose father was killed by this hateful man when she was just 6 years old.
“You know he killed your dad, right?” I said, feeling slightly wobbly.
She nodded. “So? They shouldn’t be celebrating someone’s death,” she argued.
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“No. You’re right about that,” I said.
It was hard to react to news that people were celebrating bin Laden’s death in Washington, D.C., and at Ground Zero in New York, when I was still simply trying to react to the fact that the man who murdered my husband on Sept. 11, 2001, was dead. I knew I was supposed to be feeling a sense of vindication now that Arron’s death in Tower 1 of the World Trade Center had been avenged, but all I could feel was numb. I had not been looking for justice, so bin Laden’s death was meaningless to me.
My daughter’s announcement had interrupted a potluck with friends. I would have been happy for us all to say “good” and get on with our dinner because, in my mind, bin Laden’s death changed nothing. My husband was still dead. Bin Laden’s death couldn’t alter the fact that he will never teach his daughter to drive, or console her when she’s benched during her lacrosse game. He can’t laugh as he endures our son’s deafening honks as he learns to play the trumpet. Bin Laden robbed us of those pleasures.
Yet, what bin Laden could never have fathomed when he killed my husband and all the other innocent people that day, was the gigantic global shift he instigated — changes that occurred in every facet of our society: financially, politically, spiritually. What this meant for individuals varied wildly. Some signed up to be soldiers, others found God, or some new form of faith, some changed careers.
People are always telling me their stories of how they’ve changed since 9/11. Many, like me and my children, found strength we didn’t know we had. I tell people that as strange as it sounds, I’m glad for my post-9/11 life. I had to work hard to be able to make that statement. Many tears were shed, guilt and shame beaten into submission over the fact that my husband had to die in order for this new life of mine to emerge.
I now write words that help people, change people’s lives even, and I am proud of that. Arron would have been proud, too. This unexpected gift of bin Laden’s crime was my justice.
So while psychologically, bin Laden’s death represents a symbolic turning point for many, a “chapter closed” as I have heard over and over in the media, for me it’s a mere a blip in the continuum that is my life, my kids’ lives. It is inconsequential compared to his more monumental act of killing my husband, and for me, his punishment has been every word I have written or spoken that helps another. Justice has been served.
My life with Arron is a chapter that will never fully close. Losing him created a gaping wound across my psyche that’s mostly healed over the past 10 years. I was forced to process my feelings toward bin Laden, trying to make tangible something that was unfathomable.
How could one person be capable of inflicting such loss and destruction? How could such a person reconcile these actions? Answering this question, I realized, was impossible. I had to be content with the notion of karma, or sin or something akin to the idea that bin Laden will in some way come face to face with his victims. Perhaps through my grieving process I even forgave bin Laden just a little, and so my apathy toward hearing the news of his death lies there.
There are many who wonder what the repercussions of bin Laden’s death might be in the Muslim world. I, too, wonder. What nest of vengeful thinking have we stirred in killing bin Laden at point-blank range? Is an eye for an eye paid for with yet more death?
His death gets us nowhere unless it can somehow end the cycle of anger and vengeance and more death, which I seriously doubt. Still, I hope that bin Laden’s death is followed by the slow, painful death of al-Qaida, a continuation of a shift in values in the Middle East, and all the world’s people taking a long hard look at themselves and discovering unity. If that were to happen, then we would all have good cause to celebrate.
I wish the death of Osama bin Laden could bring Arron back, but it can’t. His children and I must be content with carrying on our lives without him.
But a vengeful killing is a bitter pill that does little to cure any lack of justice and, as my daughter so astutely pointed out, is hardly worthy of celebration.
Abigail Carter wrote “The Alchemy of Loss: A Young Widow’s Transformation” as a form of catharsis after her husband’s death in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.” Carter moved from New Jersey to Seattle in 2005, where she now lives with her two children. Her husband C. Arron Dack, died in the World Trade Center’s Tower 1. He was 39.