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.
Sam and Nate have never heard of Osama bin Laden. The numbers 9-1-1 mean nothing to them yet. They don't know that two huge towers used to fill part of the NYC skyline. I'm sure that one day I will tell them all about that. I will recall for them how I was walking into my school to teach on a Tuesday morning, and the janitor stopped me at the door. I will probably try to mimic his voice when he said, "Well, you might as well cancel any plans you had for today. Terrorists just flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. One tower already fell and other one is about to go." I will see the faces of my 6th graders looking at me for answers, and I will remember not knowing what to say. I am pretty sure no matter what I tell Sam and Nate or how their teachers address this event in school, the horror of that day will never transcend the years and mean as much to them as it does to people who watched it all happen before their eyes.
But this I do know. Sam and Nate know who I am. They watch how I respond to the little details during the day, how I react when they do something they know they shouldn't be doing. They know it makes me sad when they are disrespectful to Gina or mean to each other, and they know that there is only so much of Sydney, our dog, I can take before I make her go outside. They know because they watch me. They are always watching me. It's scary sometimes, when I hear them say something I may have muttered under my breath a week before, or when they send each other to timeout for "not listening." And it is for this reason that I have a hard time feeling happy about or celebrating the events of yesterday, when a small group of highly-trained soldiers dropped into a massive compound in a suburb of Islamabad, Pakistan, and killed one of the most hated figures in the history of the world. Was I relieved? Yes, very much so. Have I read the details of what happened and what this means for the war on terror? Multiple accounts from many different perspectives. But none of it makes me happy.
You see, I believe that there isn't that much difference between Osama bin Laden and myself. On a grand scale, there are lots of differences. I'm not Muslim. I'm not from Saudi Arabia. I have never killed anyone or masterminded an attack on an entire country. I haven't been in hiding for the last 10 years, or at least my hiding hasn't taken place in caves and compounds. My hiding has always taken place behind degrees, knowledge and achievement. But that's a different story. The truth is that at some point in the past, there existed in bin Laden's heart a deep hatred that consumed him. I don't know this for sure, but I'm sure this hatred filled his every thought. He would carry on dialogues with himself about what he might say if he confronted the object of his hatred. He would fantasize what he might do if he met it. Before he planned any attacks or killed anyone, he hated. So, he and I have more in common than I like to admit because I have the same capacity for hatred. I don't currently have any hatred this deep, but the potential is there. I believe the capacity for hatred exists within everyone, even though it has never been tapped.
So, this is why I am so saddened by the death of Osama bin Laden. Not because he died. That was bound to happen, either at the hands of U.S. forces, disease or age. I am saddened because his hatred for us is being responded to with more hate. And I know that in millions of households, little eyes are looking to see how their grownups respond to this event. If they see hate, they learn hate, and the cycle is perpetuated into another generation. I can't control how other grownups respond, but I know that this grownup is very humbled by this news. I know that just like I used to ask my dad to tell me about Hitler, my boys will want to know about bin Laden, and they will learn from my response. Something Jesus once said made an impression on Matthew, so he wrote it down:
I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)
This doesn't seem like the natural thing to do. It definitely isn't the cool thing to do. Just take a quick stroll through Facebook or Twitter and you will get an eye full of macho, tough-guy rhetoric. I am thankful to live in a country that seeks to end evil, but I also pray that people will take a long look at their own hearts and examine the degree of their own hatred. I pray they will choose to end it here and now. And I hope our children are watching as we pray.