Monday, May 02, 2011
It all comes back in an instant.
When I heard the news that Osama bin Laden was dead, it's not that there was closure -- it's simply that it felt like a kind of bookend to a period of collective consciousness for our nation and a personal journey for myself. Almost ten years ago exactly, a gaping hole was ripped open in the fabric of our psyches, one that changed many of us forever. I remember very well what that day was like, the visceral experience shared with my country and the world, as well as the very personal trauma I felt and which I knew each and every one of my fellow Americans were coping with their own detailed version of. I didn't know what the people living up the street from me were going through specifically, but I understood our common grief.
For me, the events of 9/11 quickly wound up offering an inadvertent and tragically ironic way out of a life which had come to a dead stop, thanks almost entirely to my own stupidity and weakness. I spent the month immediately preceding that day in a public rehab facility, trying to kick an incapacitating drug habit. Maybe I didn't deserve a second chance, and I know I didn't deserve one that came at so high a cost, but a second chance is what I got that day. With nothing at all to lose -- no job, no wife, no real hope, nothing -- I packed a bag and drove from Miami to New York City with the intention of doing something to help, anything. I would work if given the chance; I would hand out water and administer aid to those suffering infinitely worse than I ever could if not. I accepted as emotional and spiritual liniment an axiom that I had heard long ago: When in the throes of your own personal hell, the only way out is to do something for someone else. To prove to yourself that you can still make a difference. That's how you know you're alive.
So much has happened since then in my life and in the life of the country I proudly call home. But with the death of Osama bin Laden and the scenes of people rallying in the streets of New York City -- the city I ran toward when all seemed lost; the city whose unyielding spirit and resilience helped heal and save me, and for which I'll always be grateful -- I can't shake the images and emotions that come flooding back from that one moment in time. The woman I held in my arms who had lost her husband in the attack. The massive candlelight vigil that brought me to my knees in tears. The long hours spent covering events of near-catastrophic mental burden, and the bond built with the men and women who labored alongside me. The humble daily praise for the police officers and fire fighters whose ranks had sacrificed so much. The dizzying fury of wanting to see justice done in the names of those so cruelly taken from the people who cared for them and whose lives would never be the same. The surge of entirely righteous patriotism. The helplessness and heartbreak, combined with hope and exhilaration, that I felt watching a wounded city mourn, then rise up, defiant. The pride of being at the epicenter of what I knew would be the single most important and life-changing event I would ever experience. The love, yes love, for a city and its people that was as overwhelming a feeling as any I'd ever had.
I remember now -- again.
Like all of us, I grieve again for what was lost.
But, like all of us, I'm grateful for what remains.