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May Day

May 1, 2011

September 11, 2001. I was a sophomore in high school. In Indiana, it was a day of standardized testing — the ISTEP test.  We sat alphabetically in my algebra classroom.  We finished the first section. “When you reach page 13, stop. Do not turn the page.”  We took a break.  Our proctor, Mr. Black, said, “The Pentagon was just bombed.”

We were not allowed to turn on the television. We had to continue testing. We were frightened, confused, disoriented.  During our first long break, we watched the televisions in the student commons. I saw the planes hit for the first time and we saw the World Trade Center fall.

I started to write. We were allowed to read or write in between test sections. I wrote minute-by-minute updates as I heard them into a black notebook. At the end of the day, my English teacher sang God Bless America over the PA.

I went home. I remember President Bush addressing the nation.  I wrote more.

Months later, I transferred everything I wrote onto a harddisk. I don’t know where that harddisk is anymore, surely somewhere in my mom’s house. I’ve never wanted to find it more than I do right now.


As the news broke tonight, my first instinct was to write.  So I did.  And here it is.

Twitter mentioned POTUS was to make an important, unannounced statement. We turn on CNN. Wolf Blitzer speculates. So does Twitter. Twitter says aliens. Wolf says a matter of national security.

John King breaks the news: Osama bin Laden is dead. My stomach sinks and jaw drops. Emotions, I got ‘em.

I say to Joe, “Just in time for campaign season.”

John continues: DNA testing, we have his body, outside Islamabad, POTUS has to notify key members of Congress, drones or human effort?

Twitter jokes: Mission finally accomplished? Irony in interrupting Celebrity Apprentice. Can we finally take shampoo on airplanes?

Worry. What about retaliation? We’re flying in two weeks.

CNN pans to crowd outside the White House. Chanting USA, USA, USA. Singing the National Anthem.  I feel sick to my stomach.  It doesn’t feel right.  Joe says, “It’s like we’re on the other side of the stick.  After 9/11, we saw videos of all of them cheering, down with the USA. Now we’re cheering because someone died.”

Revenge? A step towards peace? Victory?

More footage of cheering outside the White House. We’re no better than they are.

POTUS speaks.
Eloquent. Humble. Strong. Resolved. Presidential.
I think Aaron Sorkin wrote it.

He was killed in a firefight. Someone has the feeling of sweet justice in firing that fatal shot. Soon we will know his name and he will become an American hero.

Some of us will stay awake celebrating.
Still others will wait patiently for peace that still seems so out of reach.

Call me pessimistic.  Or short-sighted.  Or cynical.  I’m not. I’m glad to hear he is gone. I love my President more than ever. But it doesn’t stop here.
I do not celebrate.
Quietly, I wait for peace.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2011 11:17 pm

    wow, they made you keep testing? i heard about it on a bathroom break, and when i came back to my classroom (mrs. cavanaugh’s 10th grade religion class) the tv was on. testing was canceled for the rest of the day (and week, i think?). it was crazy.

    as always, renee, you are a beautifully gifted writer.

  2. May 1, 2011 11:28 pm

    This post reminded me that I’m older than you! I was in college. 8 of us in a theatre class, getting ready to delve into Blithe Spirit when we found out. No tvs, no cellphones- we knew the basic facts and instead of turning to technology, we turned to each other. We agreed, we argued, we sat with our arms crossed and sometimes threw them up in the air as we talked about oil and power and revenge and terrorism. It’s funny how quickly something you have pushed to the back of your brain will feel like it happened yesterday if you let it.

    As for the sentiments you expressed? I am with you. One million, one thousand percent. I said almost the same thing Joe did, about cheering because someone died and being on the other side. I’m not American, nor do I think that being American gives a person more right or responsibility to claim victory right now, if ‘victory’ is something you claim this is. When 9/11 happened- it wasn’t an American event- it was a world wide event. My school raised money, we shipped teddy bears, we wept in hallways and called our families to tell them we loved them.

    I’m not denying that there is relief in this news. I feel better knowing that he is gone. But until the IDEA behind the man is gone, there will always be fear. I think.. that’s what gets me about all the cheering going on right now. It’s as though we destroyed the only person who believes terrorism is an appropriate action. He’s not. And I define victory as the abolishing of an idea that harms the world, rather than the man given the power to lead its cause.

    I feel like a buzzkill with this comment. Like I said- I’m glad that bin Laden is not there to spew more hate and mastermind another event that will shake the world. But until we get rid of the hate? I’m not celebrating yet. Like you, I will just keep waiting for peace.

    Writing a post like this at a time like this is both brave and shows me (once again) how thoughtful you are.

  3. May 2, 2011 12:36 am

    I don’t think it’s pessimistic or short-sighted or cynical at all. Yes, this is a good thing, but people need to think big picture. One man’s death doesn’t suddenly bring the end to terrorism.

    Waiting right there with you.

  4. May 2, 2011 1:51 am

    I was a senior in high school. We were in gym class and we were waiting for the teachers to come out. They must have been ten minutes late before someone came out to tell us about the bombings. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know what to make of it. We got changed back into our clothes and sat with each other. We talked. We didn’t know what was happening or how to process what we were hearing. I went to my choir class after that… that’s when we saw it. We all sat in stunned silence the rest of the day.

    It’s frustrating. I wish it were as simple as I want it to be, as I long for it to be. He’s dead. Can we bring our boys home now? This was my first thought upon hearing the news. As a military wife gearing up for deployment… I wish with every piece of my heart that it was that easy… but it just isn’t. Someone else will rise up into his place, fill his shoes and it will go on. It will always go on. I want to rejoice in the small victory we’ve been rewarded but how? How can I do that knowing that to so many others this is a “victory” too late?

  5. May 2, 2011 8:24 am

    I was in AV, so we normally have the Today Show on… we watched it all, some of it live. I was in the room with the copiers, talking to a friend when someone said a plane hit a tower. I just assumed it was an air control tower. I made it to the tv to see the second tower get hit.

    “Quietly, I wait for peace.” Beautifully said.

  6. May 2, 2011 8:48 am

    My reaction and interpretation is a little bit different. When the citizens of those countries were celebrating in the streets on 9/11, they were celebrating the deaths of innocent American citizens.

    When Americans celebrate in the streets, they are celebrating the death of a single individual who has brought so much hate and destruction to this world, who has ruined and ended not only the lives of Americans but of his own people.

    To me, there is a stark difference.

    I am glad he is dead. I would prefer him to be dead than to be alive. But I don’t think this means the war is over. I don’t think the killing brings peace. But to me, I would rather him dead than alive, if given the choice. I would rather Hitler be dead, and I would rather Stalin be dead.

    Their deaths did not bring world peace, but I am still glad they are gone.

  7. May 2, 2011 9:01 am

    Allison- I enjoyed reading a different perspective and what you said left me really thinking. I think the part that I still struggle with is who decides when it’s okay to cheer when someone dies? I think we are all glad that he’s gone. I guess my worry and my shying away from cheering and chanting comes from the idea that – yes, we know the difference between those who cheered on 9/11 and those who are cheering now, but do they know the difference? The ones who are watching America cheer? I don’t think they do. And that’s what worries me.

  8. May 2, 2011 9:09 am

    I agree. The celebration made me uneasy. Yes, it’s a great, symbolic victory but he was just an icon at this point. He’ll now become a martyr.

    As someone who just became a U.S. citizen, and who was born in a Muslim country, I’m glad for the victory and justice. I’m glad for what it represents but I won’t be cheering for the death of a man. I’ll cheer for the death of radicalism, if it ever comes.

    Thank you for sharing.

    I’m with you. “Quietly, I wait for peace.”

  9. May 2, 2011 9:15 am

    I think people are celebrating the death of the person behind the 9/11 attacks, not the end of terrorism, which just isn’t that compelling of a reason the celebrate. (Although there are people claiming gas prices will go down and wars will end…right.)

    As someone who doesn’t support the death penalty, I can’t support the idea that someone dying is what brings closure, and certainly can’t celebrate it. I read there was a woman used as a human shield that died, too (who knows if it’s true and who knows if she was innocent, but still the uncertainty that perhaps others were affected by this).

  10. May 2, 2011 9:22 am

    One of the family members of a fallen 1st responder said it best at Ground Zero this morning – “this is just one man who has been killed – the war is not over.”

    I’m glad he’s dead, but it’s true, the war is not over.

  11. Maggie permalink
    May 2, 2011 10:13 am

    I agree with you. Those were the same thoughts that were running through my head as I was watching my twitter stream last night & this morning. I’m going to keep hoping for peace, but I’m not holding my breath for it to happen soon

  12. May 2, 2011 11:09 am

    Last night I got home after 18 hours of traveling and bike riding and all I felt was pure exhaustion. I heard the news as soon as I turned on the TV and I just immediately cried. In my stomach was a knot of emotions, good and bad, I just didn’t have the energy to process. So, thank you for this Renee, for sharing this and allowing me to read it on a Monday morning and feel like someone else was feeling the same way as me, but was able to take it and translate it to a beautifully stated piece of writing.

    Waiting. Hoping. Praying.

  13. May 2, 2011 1:24 pm

    I think you really said everything that I’ve been thinking since last night.

    I’m a pacifist. I don’t believe in the death penalty. I also love and admire the American military – as *individuals.* I also know I would be singing a different tune if I knew someone who was directly effected by 9/11. I also know that there are a lot of Americans who are joyous or relieved by this news. Their feelings are no less valid than mine. Justice? Maybe. The end? No.

    We’re all still waiting. I’m still hoping.

  14. May 2, 2011 2:54 pm

    I’m with you Renee. I’m glad he’s gone, but the only thing that’s over is one man’s life. Is it a blow to Al Qaeda? Sure. But it’s not the end.

    I’m with you. Waiting for peace.

  15. May 2, 2011 3:08 pm

    you found a way to put in to words exactly what i have been feeling about this entire series of events. this post is so well written. so perfectly captured.

    “Call me pessimistic. Or short-sighted. Or cynical. I’m not. I’m glad to hear he is gone. I love my President more than ever. But it doesn’t stop here.
    I do not celebrate.
    Quietly, I wait for peace.”

    That gave me chills. My sentiments exactly.

  16. May 2, 2011 3:17 pm

    I agree with you and it helps me to read someone who is thinking similarly when on Twitter or Facebook I’m being bombarded with messages I don’t 100% agree with. I really like what Brandy said: “And I define victory as the abolishing of an idea that harms the world, rather than the man given the power to lead its cause. ” I definitely concur with that.

  17. May 2, 2011 5:22 pm

    i am right there with you renee. i couldn’t really rejoice at all. it was just emotional and i’m just waiting for peace and wondering if we’ll ever truly see it.

  18. May 2, 2011 8:28 pm

    I was a sophomore in high school, too. Being on the west coast, it all happened before I went to school. I woke up to the DJs on the radio station I always woke up to, talking about it. I thought they were joking. Went upstairs from my basement bedroom and my mom had all three TVs in the house on a different news station, standing in a room between all three of them, staring in shock. I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t wrap my head around it. Then I went to the orthodontist to get my braces on.

    Your worry about retaliation is my exact worry. BiSC is coming up. I’m flying soon. It’s scary to think about what might happen, what could happen.

  19. May 2, 2011 9:35 pm

    This post is beautiful. I felt the same way as I was reading all the celebratory status updates on FB. I am glad he is gone because it means that we have probably just prevented something bad from happening, but I think it feels a bit wrong to celebrate someone being killed. The whole day has just been odd for me.
    PS- I was a sophomore in high school too, but I had stayed home from school that day. I woke up to the sound of my mother screaming. I will never forget it.

  20. May 3, 2011 5:33 pm

    I’m hearing more and more how, on the day, many of us didn’t know what to do but write. That said, I’m really commenting because, Sunday night, in the midst of all the emotion, I seemed to have the exact reaction that you did – I dug out an email I’d sent family friends from NYC on 9/14/01 and transcribed it onto my blog. It seemed really important to do just that, right then, so I have my fingers crossed that you find your harddisk.

  21. Mom permalink
    May 4, 2011 6:04 am

    Beautifully said. This is another reason why I am proud to be your mother.

  22. May 6, 2011 8:19 am

    Very beautifully said. I’m not American so I of course cannot imagine what 9/11 was like, nor can I comment when none of my friends/family were killed in the attacks, but the celebration of Bin Laden’s death also did not rest well with me.

    I saw this quote which resonated with me: “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr

    Even the words “War on Terrorism”… fighting extremism with guns?! There needs to be a more peaceful solution, it may take longer than a war but to me it seems more realistic and may stop the next World War from happening.


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