The kids in my son's first grade class wanted to talk about Osama bin Laden yesterday. Who was he? Why did he die? The teachers determined this wasn't a good classroom topic, and asked all the kids to talk to their parents if they had questions about the news. My son's classroom is very diverse, and several of his playmates are probably Muslim. Likewise several of them are probably being raised by atheists. My son did not come home with any questions last night -- I received an email from his teacher with this information, as did the other parents. My son did not come home with questions, and I didn't bring it up myself. When the news about the "death parties" appeared on prime time last night, I snapped off the TV. My son looked at me, but said nothing, and went back to his book.
In a sense I'm just avoiding the discussion, it's true. It's not appropriate to tell my sensitive, anxious child about the jet planes that destroyed thousands of lives and two monumental buildings. Every time I see a jet passing over the skyline, I think about that day, 9-11. Every time. And I don't think it's appropriate to tell my child about the war we started overseas as a result, or about the thousands and thousands of combatants and civilians, women and children, suicide bombers, killed in the past decade. He'll internalize our society's perpetuation of violence soon enough, without help from me.
This morning on Facebook I saw an image posted by one of my relatives: a picture of the Statue of Liberty, torch upraised, with bin Laden's severed head dangling from the Statue's fist in place of the torch, and a caption beneath that reads "GAME OVER." Right. It's just a game, and we win. So all the dead will be resurrected now, and the lives ruined will be restored; the two towers will reappear new and sparkling on the Manhattan skyline, and the scoreboard will be erased. Two of the world's great civilizations will turn their swords into plowshares, and all the babies will be wanted and cared for and well-fed and loved. RIGHT????
Get your heads out of your asses, people. Seriously.
I know grown adults who are celebrating because bin Laden "got what was coming to him." But God help us, if we all "got what was coming to us." Was bin Laden a bad man? Sure, all evidence presented points to him being a bad man. And now he's dead. But his life, his one biological entity, his arms and legs, his heart, his head, weighed out, cannot equal the lives of thousands, the dead and injured on both sides. His life, his one soul, is not price enough to pay for the souls of thousands of others -- because souls cannot be bought and sold. Not really. And because life is a gift, we can take life or give life, but we never own it. A man is dead. Let those who survive the ones killed in the Towers, the ones killed on the front, take the death of bin Laden as some comfort for their grief, if they believe they are helped by the death of one more. Surely that's easier than confronting the violent nature of humankind and the crimes committed by society against society that have never been justified.
If those children don't understand, it's just as well, because to understand they would first have to be taught about religious prejudice, about mortification of the flesh, about evil and love and the battles between too complex and overwhelming to be understood at times. Let them be innocent a little longer.