Can We Now Get Back to Being Human?

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Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb.
By now there is scant little that I could possibly add to the actual detail of the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. Well, nothing at least that hasn't been said or printed hundreds of times by now.

This column of mine started a couple of years ago with me writing from a more personal slant. I write about things like mountain climbing, rock tours, being a dad, and flexing the fact that I am a badass (in spite of the fact that my wife always wants me to get a gallon of milk on my way home--even though I may very well be on my damn Harley-Davidson Road King motorcycle).

I've been getting away from some of these personal stories in the last few months. Sometimes it is because I have been too busy. Other times because I just don't feel that I have anything of substance to offer that particular week.

I received an e-mail on my Blackberry Sunday night from a friend, who insisted that I urgently turn on CNN. I did. When the screen flashed a message stating that "OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD." I was completely awestruck and silenced. My wife and two daughters gathered around me, and together we witnessed this story unfold. As a family. My now 10- and 13-year-old girls will never really know of the dire concerns I had about their safety and future nine and a half years ago when 9/11 happened.

I woke up at 7 a.m. PST on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was looking forward to starting a new semester at Seattle University the following week, and with two babies at home, I was probably one of the happiest and most content men on this planet. Things were just plain good for me.

Like every morning before and since, I have either CNN on the TV or BBC News on the radio. This particular morning, CNN's Headline News was on as I was making coffee.

The news usually is just a way to start the day somewhat informed for me, but that morning, there was a strange story on about a small plane that crashed into one of New York's Twin Towers. What? Well, they WERE very tall, and aviation accidents DO happen. But THIS? Right in the middle of Manhattan?! I sat down to watch.

The next thing that we all saw on TV was the horrible sight of a massive passenger plane slamming into the second tower. With no previous experience of this kind of thing happening before in history, the newscasters were left stunned and speechless, and my brain just could not comprehend what the hell was going on. I sat there in my living room, silently locked on to the television.

The following reports of the Pentagon attack and the plane going down in a field in Pennsylvania quickly illuminated the facts that the U.S. was under a terrorist attack. For what act? And, by whom?

All I could think of was to get my family safe.

As all the facts about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda started to get dispersed to all of the news agencies, and all the facts about people jumping from the higher floors of the towers, and then the Twin Towers imploding to the ground with all the innocent people inside, and the firefighters trying to rescue them . . . I sat and tried to figure some of this shit out. 10 years later, I am still trying to figure this shit out.

In the two weeks that followed, I started into a sort of downward spiral that I believe all of America experienced as a collective. WE as a people, we realized, were not our government's foreign policy. WE as a people, had no interest in "empire building" or even the Middle East. I, like most other people around the world, just wanted my family safe, and to work hard so that their life could be better than mine. That is just a HUMAN thing, isn't it?

My neighbors, family, and friends all came together then. I hugged complete strangers in the street. Everything was cancelled. Major League Baseball. Commercial airline travel. Schools. The streets and skies of America were silent and empty. It was scary and profoundly eerie.

But there was a strange sense of unification through all of this. Those of you reading right now who may not have been old enough then to remember missed out on a poignant and beautiful time of collective mourning and healing. I had never cried so much before then, or since. It seems corny to some of you, I am sure. But that was a time in my life that will just forever stay static and precious.

I immersed myself in educating myself on all things present and past pertaining to tribes and countries in the Middle East. I studied Islam. I read about the Koran, and had previously read a few books of poems and ruminations by the prolific and profoundly sensitive Muslim poet Rumi.

It was my previous experience with Rumi that actually had me convinced from the get-go of the 9/11 terror attacks that this was not at all an "Islam-versus-the-world" jihad. No, the killing of innocents was nowhere in any doctrine that I could find. These were just fundamentalist assholes like the ones we can find in any state or province in any country around the world . . . at any time.

I hope now, with this particular fundamentalist gone, we can as humankind get back to being human . . . and kind to all . . . all of us, together.

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