It’s Fleet Week here in NYC, where for the next few days US military personnel will be in town. Typically a few of the US Naval vessels will stop in NYC, allowing people to go onboard as a part of a larger celebration and show of appreciation for what the military does both home and abroad to keep everyone in the US safe. Fleet Week typically marks the Memorial Day holiday – one of the most somber holidays in the US calendar (along with Veteran’s Day). Seeing all the sailors and other US military personnel in uniform triggered a flashback to the most recent milestone on the war on terror: the death of Osama bin Laden.
As a part of my commute to the day job, I walk past the World Trade Center (WTC) site when I exit the PATH train to connect to the #4 train at the Fulton St stop to get on the NYC Subway. Most mornings I’m just another face within the sea of humanity flowing to and past the construction site as people head to their destinations (mostly work I think) in the Downtown Manhattan area. It’s typically a somber, focused energy one senses from the crowd as you walk the block alongside the WTC site. You will occasionally see people stop and look and take pictures (clearly tourists) against the blue tarp fence which advertises what The Memorial will look like once work is completed.
So it was a little strange for me going to work the first few days after news broke that US Navy SEALs had managed to take Bin Laden out. It brought a flashback for me of how on Tuesday 9.11.01 I had hoped out of bed and was getting dressed to go to class as a college freshman in Jamaica to a dreadful statistics course scheduled for 8am. My gut told me to turn on the TV before leaving the house and I was sucked in like many others around the globe, watching those events unfold that morning. I thought of my mom and was a bit relieved when I called her and she told me she was fine and nowhere near WTC. I saw how somber everyone was at school that morning and how it was such a gut wrenching day. I thought of my friend who lost a cousin in the attacks, especially the first time I was able to visit the site after the towers fell many months later. The emotion that came over me that was such an indescribable heaviness that I will never forget.
I was a bit angry, honestly, during the week when more details started to pour out about the Navy SEALS mission. I was angry at walking by the WTC site, seeing all those news vehicles taking up space and watching reporters cover the story ad nauseam. I would listen to my anger as it asked: why are they here? Why am I seeing more and more stories talk about every aspect of what Bin Laden’s life? Do I care to know was like for Bin Laden living in the compound, the details of the mission itself, his alleged sexual “impotence”, and the political implications of how he was able to seemingly hide in plain sight not far from a key Pakistani military school – in a suburb of the capital no less? What about the families whose lives were shattered that day? Why aren’t their daily struggles for nearly the last 10 years being reported on with the same level of coverage as Bin Laden’s death? Why are we not hearing more about them because quite frankly they need all the help they can get in trying to move forward?
As I processed my own feelings it really made me aware at how raw an issue this is still is, and even though Bin Laden was brought to justice, for these families there will never be any closure. There may be a bit more comfort in knowing that the man who orchestrated the day that their loved one was taken away is no more, there is no true closure as that loved one cannot return. What struck me the most was passing by a spot in the blue tarp the Monday evening after the story broke and seeing this hand written comment in pen and very large letters: “Thank you President Obama”. There was such a sense of “what had to be done was finally done” in those words that at least for me, there was no room for joy, jubilation or a boisterous swell of national pride. It was just as somber yet emotional moment as I may ever experience.
The commute going back to NJ that Monday evening was interesting. I remember wading through the walkways with the news crews positioned by the Federal Building. I almost cursed a man out because he was too busy stopping to look at the news crews filming instead of paying attention amidst the wave of people flowing towards the PATH station, including myself directly behind him. I remember vividly looking at that blue tarp as I walked by, seeing cards, flowers and the hand written comment above. I never took walking by the WTC site each morning for granted, and I sure didn’t do that week. I guess that was where the anger came from, just understanding how hard it is to walk by such a place and not think about what happened there and all the people who were affected. Perhaps I may have felt that the news converged – while warranted – was still somehow not looking at the real story: the various struggles of the families who lost love ones that day.
I’ll be the first to stay that I am not qualified to speak on this topic, as there are far more capable folks than I who can do so both eloquently and appropriately. Even when the Memorial is constructed I don’t think I will be able to look and see the final space. I suppose the image of how it is now, raw and under construction, is now so permanently etched in my mind’s eye I have chosen not to see anything else. I just think that I was reminded in a somber way that what happened at WTC – included the people directly affected – should never be forgotten.