“I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” – Mark Twain.
The stunning news that one of America’s greatest enemies, Osama Bin Laden had been killed awaited me and many others in the early hours of May 2. To hear the news that this man who has caused so much suffering and changed the way we live in this country was dead made me sit and reflect on the decade since he horrified us with his hatred.
Who can forget those minutes and days after the 9/11 attacks. Fear was everywhere. We cried until we ran out of tears. The walls that so often separate us came crashing down as our need to connect overcame our fears of each other. We were all Americans. Someone hurt us and someone was going to pay.
It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed. An administration has changed. The world has gone through the Great Recession. We’ve lost our homes, paid more for gas than ever before, and seen the countless flag-draped coffins of our soldiers travel the roads of our towns and cities as they make their way to their final resting place. On Sunday, the man who put this into motion was killed and a part of me says “Finally we can breathe a bit easier”.
I could end this with the brief note I’ve written but as usual nothing is as black and white as we would like it. You see, I have a 9-year-old son who wasn’t alive when this happened. He has never known a country different than the one we live in. He was struggling yesterday morning to understand why people would cheer over the death of a man. In his heart he couldn’t put the pieces together.
I tried to give him an answer. I told him of the terrible things Bin Laden had done, how this was justice, not vengeance. It was only later that I would comprehend how much of an internal struggle he was having. He just couldn’t understand how people at a baseball game would applaud the death of a man. It didn’t fit in his picture of God or mercy.
My wife told me that before he left for school he made her repeat Bin Laden’s name so that he would be able to pronounce it correctly. He then went on a nine hour mission to ask the adults in his life how they felt about Bin Laden’s death. From his teacher to his karate instructors and every other adult he came into contact with that he knew and respected. He told his mother later how he asked each one, “Are you happy Osama Bin Laden was killed?” I thank God that those he asked gave my little boy such thoughtful answers.
Finally last night we climbed up on the bed and watched the evening news together. Maybe my wife’s words would be best to explain his conclusion.
“We watched the evening news together last night and I started to cry, really cry. I apologized because all of it came rushing back at me. Alex heard my sobs and looked at me and said, “I am starting to understand; it’s not that anyone is happy exactly…but he was a very bad man.”
My purpose behind my words today is to slow myself down and to not get caught up in the heat of the moment and forget my place as a disciple. There are few people who have deserved justice such as this man and yet, in the eyes of a 9-year-old boy, I see the seat of mercy in a way I’ve never seen before.
My son reminded me yesterday of an important lesson. In a civilized society we must fight the easy road of hate. It is that very indulgence in hate that has bred the Osama Bin Laden’s of the world. It is the place where cultural, social, religious and political differences are reasons to wish terrible harm on those that differ with your opinion. Unfortunately America may fool itself but we our becoming a nation that clings to our biases with as much tenacity as any terrorist. It shouldn’t be Bin Laden’s lasting legacy in America that he taught us how to commit Jihad on each other.
I will celebrate my country’s accomplishment this week. I will reflect on a sad day and try to teach my son why justice being served is a good thing. My hope is that he won’t see me act in a way that undermines all the lessons I’ve taught him about grace. I guess I never want to become a small man in his big eyes.
2 Peter 3:9 (TMSG) 9God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the end because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.