For 9/11 families, a day of painful reflection instead of high-fives and fist-pumping

At best, there was some sense of relief and vindication. But mostly, there was the return of the pain and sadness of loss. Upon learning that Osama bin Laden had been killed, those who lost a loved-one on 9/11 were transported to the emotional turmoil of those days, eager to spend quiet time with the memories of those lost, in a quiet place, alone.

An article in the Buffalo News set out the emotions felt by some of Beverly Eckert’s and Sean Rooney’s siblings.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” said Susan Bourque, Rooney’s sister-in-law. “It opened up all the pain and tragedy of 9/11 all over again.”

And it stirred complex emotions in the hearts of Rooney’s family, like others.

“I can’t feel happy, not with all that has happened since 9/11,” said Karen Eckert, another sister-in-law. “This was all so much bigger than one man. I also feel sadness for all the innocent people who’ve lost their lives, and for those in our military who’ve died in two wars, all in the pursuit of the war on terror.”

Cynthia Blest, of Buffalo, one of Rooney’s sisters, summed up the conflicting emotions that hit many of the Sept. 11 families late Sunday and Monday.

“This won’t bring my brother back,” she said. “My brother is gone. But this may, in fact, end up saving more lives.”

Blest said she came to a clear conclusion about bin Laden after 9/11, when she watched a video of him.

“My take on him was that he was a very evil man,” she said.

And upon hearing that bin Laden had died, she added, “I guess it was a relief to a certain extent that at last the person most responsible for my brother’s death was gone.”

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Beverly Eckert’s meditations on terror and terrorists

I have blogged on No truer hearts about some of Beverly’s thoughts about Osama bin Laden and his 9/11 minions.

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The end of bin Laden as seen by writers in the New Yorker

Some of the best reporting on Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the US struggles against them have appeared on the pages of The New Yorker. Staff writer Lawrence Wright has written articles for the magazine, as well as the essential book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Here’s some of his reaction to bin Laden’s death:

Democracy and civil society are the cure for the chronic misery of Muslim countries that has fed the rise of Islamic extremism. The death of the most notorious terrorist the world has ever seen, whose mission was to create a clash of civilizations, will allow the door to open more widely to the tolerance, modernism, and pragmatism that is so badly needed and so long awaited in a part of the world where despair, corruption, brutality, and fanaticism have laid waste to so many generations.

Dexter Filkins, author of The Forever War, wonders whether Pakistani intelligence helped hide bin Laden, and what shape of future US-Pakistani relations will be:

Could Pakistani officials have helped hide Osama? The most obvious fact of Osama’s hideaway is that it was in a densely populated area, many miles from the Afghan border region that for years had been the focus of the hunt. This, by itself, is not remarkable: Since 2001, most of the senior leaders of Al Qaeda captured in Pakistan have been nabbed in cities: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Rawalpindi, Ramsi bin Al-Shib in Karachi, Abu Zubaida in Faisalabad.

There is no evidence that any of the above men were sheltered by Pakistani officials. Indeed, since 2001, the double-game has usually worked like this: While Pakistani officials may covertly support the Taliban, they have bought cover for themselves by coöperating with the United States against Al Qaeda.

But the fact that Osama was hiding in an urban area raises many obvious questions, like who was taking care of him, and how. Abbottabad is only thirty miles from the Pakistani capital, and it is home to a Pakistani military base, a military academy, and many retired Pakistani officers. Conspiracy theories abound in Pakistan; since 9/11, the most common has been that Bin Laden was being sheltered by the I.S.I.

There is a great bit of early analysis of the Osama bin Laden hunt and kill by Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars: The  Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Coll doubts bin Laden could have nestled himself so securely in Abbottabad without the knowledge of Pakistani officials.

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What would Beverly say on this momentous day?

I would not presume to know exactly how Beverly Eckert would have reacted to the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. But I do know she would have wholeheartedly endorsed the sentiments of Barack Obama regarding how America should resp0nd in the wake of 9/11. David Remnick, who has written a book about the early years of the president’s life, unearthed a telling quote from Obama shortly after the terrible attacks on our country. Here it is, from his piece in the NewYorker.

The essence of this tragedy, [wrote Obama, in the Hyde Park Herald] it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others.

Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity….

We will have to make sure, despite our rage, that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad.  We will have to be unwavering in opposing bigotry or discrimination directed against neighbors and friends of Middle Eastern descent. Finally, we will have to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes of embittered children across the globe—children not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, Latin American, Eastern Europe, and within our own shores.

These are sentiments which I’m sure Beverly would have espoused, as her various activities post-9/11 illustrated. Each day, she had been striving to create peaceful tomorrows.

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The death of Osama Bin Laden: A watershed in post-9/11 America

My normal routine of late has been to retire for the day around 9:30 or 10 p.m. This past evening I tended to my daughter, tired after an Ultimate Frisbee tournament over the weekend, and together we watched some of the Washington Capitols hockey game. Then I started to watch a DVD on my computer that Beverly Eckert had put together. It contained video of news broadcasts dealing with the love she lost, Sean Rooney, the aftermath of the attacks, and the causes Beverly became involved in. I saw her face; I heard her words; I was re-living those terrible days and emotions.

I had started to watch the DVD a couple years ago, but could not get through all three discs. Now was time to go through it again, for some reason. I don’t know why I chose tonight. But as interviews of Beverly flashed on my computer screen, and scenes of that horrible day, the news came on television and on Twitter and the news online — from everywhere, literally! —  that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by US forces in Pakistan. One of the leaders of al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of this mass murder, was finally tracked down and would plan the deaths of others no more. I watched as President Barack Obama carefully and intelligently explained what had happened and what it meant.

When he reached the end of his remarks, the president recalled the families of 9/11, and it seemed the spirit of Beverly was everywhere. That is a kind of eternity that happens every day, all over the world. We remember someone who has passed away, and they live in a way that is as real and vital as anything in this ephemeral existence of ours.

Here are the concluding words of the president’s memorable speech:

Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores.
And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11.  I know that it has, at times, frayed.  Yet today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.
The cause of securing our country is not complete.  But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to.  That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.
Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are:  one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Thank you.  May God bless you.  And may God bless the United States of America.
Then came the images and reports on TV about the spontaneous outpourings of joy and patriotism and relief at the White House and Times Square and Ground Zero. People had heard the news of Bin Laden’s death, and voted with their feet. They were mostly young people, ones you would not expect to even care about 9/11 or Bin Laden or the war in Afghanistant and Pakistan. But the news of the death of this monster struck a chord, and out came the flags, the chants, the patriotic songs. God Bless America, the Land that I Love..
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A place to browse and read quality longform non-fiction

I’m getting a kick out of being able to look over the shoulders of famous members of the Twitterati (like Gene Weingarten) to see who they are following. Gene has his serious side, having written a number of amazing in-depth articles, so it is not surprising that he follows Longform.org, a web site which collects long non-fiction articles deemed of sufficiently high quality by the site’s editors. (They also have previously unpublished articles.) It’s nice to see there are people who value the well-written, thoroughly researched non-fiction piece.

The Weingarten article that sticks in my mind most searingly is his examination of parents who had forgotten they had their small children in their car, went about their business during the day, inadvertently dooming their child. You can hardly believe anyone would have the courage to talk to these people, and the sensitivity to tell their heart-wrenching stories, but Gene pulls it off masterfully. The article is one of Longform’s “Editor’s Picks.”

See also the similar site, Longreads.

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A lesson of this day of William and Kate: The universal attraction of a love story

I have not yet seen video of the Royal Wedding, but many people have, apparently. I heard on NPR that about a third of the world’s population, in fact, tuned in. Wow. That’s a big crowd.

There are, of course, many reasons people want to watch such things: the sheer spectacle, the rarity of the event, the historical pageantry. But I’m certain that the irresistable draw of a simple love story is also part of it. I know: the story of William and Kate is not of the average couple. But beyond the royal trappings and media circus, all we really have here is a young women and man falling in love and pledging their lives to each other.

Everyone loves a love story.

That is why I was drawn to the story of Beverly Eckert. At the center of her heart, before and after that horrible day in September 2001, was the person she shared her life with, her partner, her soul mate, her one true love — Sean Rooney. Readers of No Truer Hearts will find out about what Beverly Eckert was like growing up in Buffalo, making a career in the insurance industry, and then living a new sort of life after 9/11 as one of the most effective family member activists. But through all of this they will also see how two people fell in love, made a comfortable and happy life together, and then said goodbye for the final time one clear, chaotic, unforgettable September day.

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