There was, for all intents and purposes, dancing on the streets only a few feet away from the grave site of America’s lost innocence and naivete of the post-Cold War world. The mastermind of an attack that killed 2,752 people had been murdered, the result of a nearly ten-year search for revenge and justice. It may not have been closure, and who knows if it was cathartic, for a nation that has spent the intervening years looking back with revulsion, anger and melancholy. But it was a mission accomplished and now that Osama bin Laden was dead, there was a celebration to be had.
Where, once, the streets had been covered with soot, blood, and tears, a mob now frothed with rapturous patriotism and joy. There were chants of “USA, USA, USA,” the recitation of the pledge of allegiance and American flags waving in a calm wind. Cameras flashed, the ubiquitous modern sign of a time meant to be remembered.
A man climbed the lamp post on the corner of Vesey and Church, spraying an open champagne bottle. He was received by a roaring audience. Then he was replaced by another and another among an assembly line of people eager to climb up, all waving the flag. On the opposite street corner, someone else did the same. Each to delight below. The police stood back, positioned to leave the moment unfettered.
To be in the middle of that crowd was to sense euphoria. It was the image shown on the news, the next morning’s newspaper pages and how America took in the night.
Bin Laden was gone and New York threw itself a party. It’s not symmetrical– even the death of such a nefarious and wanted criminal can’t equal out the scales of justice– but it was fulfilling for the time being.
Yet, to take a step back, away from the grinning college kids and the jubilant mob and to the outer edges of the scene was to see something else. A sorrow and a pain still not forgotten. It was a consumption of the hour in a different way.
The crowd stood in the shadows of the growing Freedom Tower being built by the red, white and blue colored crane. A fence surrounded the not-yet built building, guarding the construction. Soldiers came to stick roses in its holes in remembrance. As a duo of bagpipers played “Danny Boy” for the filming camera crew, a woman wept nearby, quickly enveloped by a crowd and lost in the fray. Visitors laid flowers below the Ground Zero cross, which stood in the darkness, just outside of the camera’s shine.
It was a solemn dichotomy.
As the night drew on, emotions fluttered. The meaning was still unsure. The masses sang, pronouncing their patriotism one moment, then chanting “Tase him” the next as the police closed in because that lamp post that had been climbed negligently one too many times.
A man walked around carrying an iPad glowing “Obama 1, Osama 0.” A few yards a way a woman walked just the same, carrying a photo frame of her lost son.
The news was surely being digested, but by whom and how?
In his speech hours earlier, President Barack Obama had preached unity. Here, a block from Broadway and under the inescapable memory of the horrors that were, his message was actualized. The face of terror took a bullet to the head and people flocked to memorialize it in their separate ways. Some came to grieve once more and others to let glory ring.
As jubilant chants broke out again, another rose found a resting place in the fence. Ten years ago almost 3,000 people were lost and today many holes remain open.