May 2, 2011

Death and Remembrance - Osama bin Laden and the world

On September 11, 2001, I wrote a letter about the attacks Al Qaeda, and its leader Osama bin Laden, carried out on the United States. An excerpt of that letter was taken off the Internet and appeared in a book put out by Beliefnet, along with the writings of many clergymen and women far more wise than I am.

Earlier this evening, I listened as President Obama announced the news that the man behind the terrorist organization responsible for these attacks had been found, and that he had been killed. And afterward, I watched as people began to gather around the White House, and around Ground Zero, and all over the Internet, to discuss the news.

Legend has it that Mark Twain once said "I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." Many people will feel that way this evening; the media has been photographing them celebrating all over the world since the news was released. Others, on the other side of the conflict, might mourn. Still others might find themselves in the place that I am, quiet, thoughtful, wondering if one life makes up for the hundreds of thousands lost while he was searched for. And then one even wonders if that is a valid way of thinking. Can one count human beings like apples or stones? What is a life worth?

I went back to the shrine, that shrine I talked about in my 2001 letter, though now it is in another room in another building in another town. Yet the feeling, and the sound, was the same. One death will not bring all those he killed back to life. One death will not atone, cannot atone, for all the pain and suffering terrorism has brought to the world. A chapter has ended, but the book of evil is still being written. There is no gaining back what was lost on September 11, 2001, nor anything that happened between that day and today.

There is only what we choose to do now. And I will pray that what we choose to do makes the world a better place. I can do no more.


  1. Good morning. I agree with that idea of choosing what to do right now. All the memory, all the grief, all the joy, from the past means little, or even nothing, if we don't use our next moments and days to make it all better so that nobody anywhere ever has to bring death to anyone else ever again.

  2. I am just hoping that the "celebrating" that is being reported is more for the end of the manhunt and potentially the disruption or the end of Al-Qaeda, and not for the death of an individual.

  3. It's said that we have a culture of death. We seem oddly entranced by it. In my youth, Ancient Egypt was looked down upon for their preoccupation with death and life beyond death. And the bloody preoccupation with sacrifice of Mesoamerican cultures horrified the WASPish intellectuals who were experts in that history. But both those cultures had (have) spiritual frameworks beyond the superficiality of public American monotheism, which seems to see death as just the death of others who are video-game characters, and not the fore-echoes of our own. Such a frivolous conceptual framework that posits a candyland heaven and Magic Daddy who can beat up all the other daddies, leads to sacrifice which might make an Aztec priest pale.

    Good to see you, also, Rev. Tam!

  4. Even now many months later people still celebrate the death of a man who seemed only to want freedom for his people from oppression. To be sure he went about it in a way most would not. It has been said that "one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter", and I am sure there are many who saw him this way. I myself will not condemn nor condone his actions as I will never know what motivated him and kept him going. Depending upon who and what you believe concerning this person (the facts are still muddy) there was calculated reasoning behind them.
    I grieve for the loss of a life. As has been stated already our culture seems to have an innate blood lust. I chalk it up to the de-sensitizing of our youth through the media outlets (televison, movies, video games, etc).
    I sincerely hope that whatever after life he is in, he is resting at peace and has come to terms with his actions.

    Also good to see you Rev. Siuda.

  5. this is very apropiate to my country right now