“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives,
but I will not rejoice in the…death of one….”
Jessica Dovey, Middle School Teacher
“Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
On the 2nd Sunday of Easter, just after midnight, Osama bin Laden, leader of a global network of terrorist cells and the person many the world over held singularly responsible for the devastation and loss of September 11, 2001, was captured and killed by U.S. Special Forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Reports seem to suggest that bin Laden had been “hiding in plain sight,” living in a secure compound in a wealthier area of Northern Pakistan near a military academy. With him were not only his colleagues, but several women and children. Two men and one other woman were also killed. The remaining women and children were handed over to Pakistani authorities. No Special Forces soldiers were lost.
There is a legend that says when Israel reached the Red Sea and God parted the waters to lead this mixed band of people into freedom, God wept over the loss of so many Egyptian soldiers who’d chosen, not the path of freedom and new life, but of continued oppression and violence.
I know there are many and mixed emotions among those of us receiving the news of the death of someone who terrorized the world. People from 88 nations died in the World Trade Towers that early fall day almost 10 years ago, and people in Bali, in Somalia, in London and around the globe fell victim to a violence national boundaries could not control.
I remember so clearly, as someone living in the United States, how it seemed the world came together around such a senseless loss of life on our shores and all the sorrow it garnered. I remember clearly our church in New York City struggling to provide pastoral care to its membership — one who’d lost 30 co-workers but himself survived because it was his day off; one who’d lost 12 co-workers but survived because he was on his honeymoon; one who’d lost five co-workers and one who’d lost a cousin and the congregation itself, losing Renee Barrett Arjun, long-time member of MCCNY, who had made it out of the North Tower, but subsequently died of the internal burns to her lungs. Some had been marched over bridges to safety and some ferried away. I remember clearly the stories of people on the streets looking to our pastors there for a word of hope, stopping them on the streets to ask for prayer and blessing. I remember my friend, Rev. Delores Berry, whose best friend lost her husband at the Pentagon. And I remember the horror I felt as it became clear with television scene after television scene, that there was no place on the face of the earth where terrorism wasn’t targeting innocent lives.
That terrible day the smoldering and twisted metal of mega towers, a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and a demolished wing of the Pentagon became the unforeseen graveyards of almost 3,000 people. Many, including 243 New York City firefighters, bravely sacrificed their lives in the hope of saving others. Many others suffered permanent disabilities for their selflessness and courage. Many became targets for misplaced grief and anger because of their faith as Muslims.
The United States did the right thing in providing for Osama bin Laden what his cruelty and violence denied many human beings of many faiths and nationalities — a decent burial. Nothing more is necessary or required of us than to join God in weeping over the loss of so many lives and the devastation and targeting of so many others — and perhaps, for those of us with the faith to do so, to join God in mourning the loss of a human being who long ago sold his soul to the power of violence and hatred.
Though I can understand the impulse to rejoice in bin Laden’s demise, I cannot, as a spiritual leader and minister of the Gospel, countenance the celebration of anyone’s death. I take as my guide now, as I did 10 years ago, not only the Scriptures I reverence, but the people whose losses were most direct and most personal. — Though some say they are relieved that one of the world’s foremost terrorists is dead, many also confess the lack of closure or consolation his death provides.
The truth is, death doesn’t overcome the pain of death. Only new life can do that — our living in a way that honors the beauty and goodness of all those innocently lost, and the beauty and goodness of the One innocently lost two millenia ago who wisely counseled, “God makes the sun to shine on the good and the bad alike.”
As I look back to that day of devastation and forward to the memorials we will all be part of on this upcoming 10th anniversary, I believe the important things we learned about human beings overall that day were things like the durability of love and its power to triumph over every evil. To a one, the people who perished on September 11th and who were able to call or email or text someone before their deaths, said this: Remember, I love you.
That’s what I’m trying to remember right now — that they loved us and now join the angels and saints in praying for us and for our world. I trust that their prayers are for the healing of hatred and the renouncing of violence and greed and religious intolerance and all the things that tear us apart. I hope that you will join me in praying with them now that our world will find a way to heal itself of its cruelty and sorrow, so that one day we may live like the brothers and sisters we all felt ourselves to be that bright and crisp day ten years ago. That, I believe, would be the greatest tribute we could offer to those loved and lost and the most effective counter to terrorism and fear.
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, Moderator
Metropolitan Community Churches