As a reader, I don’t enjoy stories with tidy endings. Real life is raggedy and messy, and the best stories suggest this. As a citizen, I feel the same way. I step back from imagining that battles, even worthy ones, can be won for good. The world may be a safer place without the likes of Osama bin Laden, but I don’t rejoice in his death, in this false ending to a tragedy. Leave that kind of barbarism to the fanatics of al-Quaeda who rejoiced in the deaths of so many innocent Americans on 9/11. I’m not prepared to sink to that level.
I respect the tact and genuine humility of President Obama. He conveyed a sense of conscience, of one who refused to transform a grave but necessary act into a display of triumphalism. It’s a fact that sometimes the best among us end up in wars and are forced to take life. In ancient warrior societies, returning veterans underwent purification rituals because it was understood that killing, however necessary, was a radical break from the norms of civilization. Like Obama, they had the humility to know that.
To commit mass murder in the name of God (as bin Laden did on 9/11) went beyond the psychopathic. It tore a horrific rent in the fabric of our common life, one that a writer or an artist can help to mend by re-imagining the world, so bent out of shape by one man’s cruel imagination. It may not sound like much, but you’ve heard it said that living is the best revenge. It’s also the only thing that matters. Let’s honor our dead with humility — meaning that we know our limits, that we know the gravity of taking life, that we know when enough is enough.