When I was 12 years old my parents’ divorce was unfolding and I felt alone facing the harsh realities of the “real” world. I already considered myself “grown up”, or so I thought. In September I saw footage of the first tower getting hit right before I left for school. When I arrived everyone was talking about it but the school had told all the teachers that they were not to turn on the TV’s at all. Mrs. Fitz, my Spanish teacher, disobeyed that order and my class watched in stunned silence as we saw the second plane hit, shocked when we saw the Pentagon, and paralyzed by fear when the towers fell.
That moment our entire world changed. An era of post-cold war economic prosperity became an era of orange threat levels, security scans, and the Patriot Act. That day I truly grew up, even though I didn’t realize it until Sunday night. I remember being terrified when I heard about the bombing in Afghanistan in October 2001 and when I heard about the attacks on the UK underground on 7/7, but by the time the Madrid train bombing, Mumbai hotel bombing, the shoe bomber, underwear bomber, et al. had happened I was numb to the fear. I had accepted the fact that this simply was the world we lived in.
Rather than be paralyzed by fear I took steps to try and be prepared against a possible attack (I still have an anti-hijacking plan in my head just in case) but one thing always struck fear in my soul and, like a dense layer of smog was always there. That looming menace, like the boogeyman, was Osama Bin Laden. Not until Sunday night when I rushed down to the White House, swung from the gates on Pennsylvania Avenue, and chanted with my fellow human beings did I realize what an oppressive layer of fear he had created. Like coming up out of the fog and into the sun, I can truly see how expansive the fear was. Now my fear has been lessened and I feel a sense of relief.
Sunday night I drove to my office a block from the White House and joined with my brothers and sisters, almost all around my age in a cathartic celebration. We were the generation that had been too young to be mad about 9/11 and could only be fearful of the changed world. We rejoiced in the streets because collectively we all felt this relief. It didn’t matter what ideology you came from Sunday night, you were relieved. I saw signs for Bush/Cheney, Hillary, McCain/Palin, flags from America, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, and “Don’t Tread on Me”, people from every corner of the world. I saw the men carrying the Israeli and Palestinian flags embrace at the collective joy we all felt.
There has been concern and debate about whether the chanting in the streets is right when it mirrors the appalling “Death to America” rallies across the Middle East these past ten years. However, what makes Sunday night’s rally different is that, like the Egyptians in Tahir Square, we were not calling for the death of anyone, but rather we were celebrating our personal and collective liberation from the fear inspired by a mass murderer.
Until this point in my life I could never truly understand the joy of V-day but last night I think I tasted a glimpse, it was pure unadulterated relief.