Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sunday Evening, May 1st

A sign on the lamp post reads "Thank You Obama"

After wrapping up some pre-Finals homework Sunday night, I checked facebook and saw a flurry of posts-- "OSAMA DEAD?" It was the wild frenzy occurring before the President's announcement. I quickly phoned my parents, my best friend, and my brother in China, who ended up listening to the President's speech over my phone. Soon after, I realized that being in NYC, I couldn't just sit in my room and watch the TV. I had to do something. I had to experience this momentous event with other people. I felt strongly called to see the World Trade Center that night. I hopped on my bike and sped over there, only to find a massive gathering of people waving flags and singing together. I felt an incredible sense of unity and love in that crowd that night.

However, in the days after, critique started to boil up from many of the people whom I usually would agree with. Facebook became flooded with quotes from Mark Twain and MLK about not celebrating an enemy's death, and criticizing those who attended gatherings at ground zero and the White House Sunday evening. I have become extremely frustrated with my friends who present these arguments. And it boils down to one thing: I think they have misconceived what happened at the WTC and in front of the White House Sunday night. Having been there, I can attest to its peaceful nature. After getting back home that night, reflecting on all that had happened, my emotions boiled down to this thought (which I wrote down): "So many thoughts of patriotism, loss, pain, struggle, and, finally-- hope tonight." The crowd I encountered and was a part of was joyous, yes, but also solemn. Certainly, there was an element of people who probably did not have the best intentions at heart, but they were a small, insignificant minority.

And so, seeing people, friends of mine, people I respect, standing on self righteous pulpits preaching about how they think Americans were wrong in their reaction to bin Laden's death, I can't help but feel frustrated that my friends are causing more derision over an issue that they misperceived. It seems to harken back to these ugly idealogical divides in our nation, split down party lines where liberals are shouting at "the other" Americans, saying they were wrong in their expression of emotion. The truth of the matter is that there were no "us and them" dynamics at ground zero the other night. There was no republican/democrat divide in that crowd. There was a strong sense of unity, and a strong sense of love in that crowd. The accusatory feeling of those who are "taking the high road" is, to me, as ugly as Sarah Palin calling one part of the country "real America."

All this leads me back to my point that the supposition about the crowds at WTC and the White House had ill-intentions at heart. The gathering that night was not merely a celebration of the killing of an evil man. It was a release of emotions at what is symbolically the end of a dark era in the life of this nation, and the world. And for many of the people in the crowd that night, including myself, it was like lifting a dark cloud from something that has cast a shadow on literally half of our time on this planet. I also seriously doubt that the reaction would have been any different if we had captured bin Laden rather than killed him. The chants in the crowd were not of hatred, they were of relief, of national pride, and of thanks to our military and our president. It was about being together as a nation, and sharing so many emotions together. I will stand by my friends and countrymen who gathered there that night, singing songs together and feeling, again, a sense of unity.

I called my brother in China as soon as I heard the news, and corresponded with him several more times through the night. After returning home from ground zero that night, I emailed him the following:

Incredible. I am really beside myself. Home now, not sure I can sleep though. I'm lost in a trance right now... such a surreal evening. But the thing I keep coming back to, in talking with you, Keegan, Ben, and others tonight is love-- a powerful sense of love for my brothers and sisters. Funny how something like this event could evoke that emotion.

To which my brother replied:

Don't apologize. I agree with you, brother... America, as a collection of places I've loved, and those who I care for, that, I know, is something I want to be a part of, something I want to protect. My friends, my brother, my family- that is America. That they can sleep more soundly tonight, that 'we' have achieved something together, that people I care for understand the importance of this event, confirms my understanding of America, and brings me warmth.

Those were the sentiments I felt and shared Sunday night. And those are the reasons I will feel no shame for America on our night of triumph.