Vacationing at the same time each year has been both wonderful and harrowing. During our annual post tax-season holiday, coincidentally, several national tragedies have occurred. Columbine and Oklahoma City took place, both of which saddened our travels, and, this year, the South was ripped apart by tornadoes. For once, however, there was news that lifted our spirits to new heights.
At the time, we were in Capri, a place straight out of a 1950’s Doris Day movie. It is serene and picturesque, and the only hint of change is the row of famous designer stores that now occupy the main thoroughfare. Once you leave the dock and ride the funicular to the town center, there isn’t a single car to be found – except for specially designed taxis with rag-top convertible roofs. This is the home of Capri pants, Caprese salad, and the gentle wind that whispers to you that this is where you relax.
We were sleeping through our first night in this Italian paradise when we were awakened by a 5am phone call. It was our son, who said simply “We got Bin Laden.” In a flash, we were manning our stations – my wife at the TV and me on my computer. Unlike Doris Day, we had modern communication to receive the latest information from American news networks, and we quickly absorbed the unexpected reality that the man who had attacked America for almost 20 years, and disrupted our lives for the past decade, was dead.
We stayed glued to the TV for hours, soaking up every piece of news that dribbled out from the Administration. We watched President Obama – in perhaps his most presidential moment – tell America that this monster who had killed so many Americans, and who had been the direct cause of one war and an enemy ally in another, was finally found and dispatched to his rightful place in Hell, along with his predecessors Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin.
We relived images of George W. Bush sitting in the White House after 9/11, stoically saying “We’re going to get Bin Laden, dead or alive. It does not matter to me.” The second half of that famous quote was “It may take a month or a year, but we will get him.” Americans don’t leave our fallen soldiers on the battlefield, and we don’t allow murderers of innocent citizens to escape justice.
The most fascinating person on TV that day was Michael Scheuer, who currently has a book out on Bin Laden, and who was head of the Bin Laden unit of the CIA between 1996 and 2004. Scheuer eloquently expressed profound bitterness that Osama had not been killed more than ten years ago – an act that would have prevented the 9/11 deaths and the subsequent harm to our economy.
What is clear is that the death of Bin Laden is not the time to change course. If anything, we need to double down now in our efforts to eradicate these animals, and, the sooner we do, the better chance we have of winning this prolonged war.
We reveled in joy on this day, as did our son. He joined the celebration on the Ohio State campus, participating with hundreds of other college students in chants of “USA, USA, USA.” Our daughter, now studying at Hofstra University in New York, exhibited a more subdued demeanor. She aligned herself with our friend, Rabbi David Wolpe, who wrote “Yesterday, Yom Hashoah, Bin Laden was killed. The proper reaction is sobriety, not revelry. This is a time to remember those who died, pray for those who fight, meditate anew on wickedness and redouble our dedication to justice.” Neither an ocean nor six time zones could make a dent in the unanimous feelings of our family – we were all happy to see him go.
We wanted to share our joy; after all, this is a moment when you want to hug someone. The Italians were joyous as well, fervently expressing how this mass murderer deserved to die and asking why such men even exist. In a place like Capri, an island of peace and beauty, a man like Bin Laden is utterly incongruous.
But we really needed Americans with whom to share our exhilaration. We ventured to a must-see place at Capri – the Blue Grotto, which legend says was the swimming pool of a Roman emperor. It is a cavern where sunlight passes through and creates the most beautiful blue glow to the water. You enter through a small crevice on rowboats manned by the fun-loving Italians.
As we waited in line, we struck up a conversation with the people behind us. They were paisanos from New Jersey – Nick and Sal. Here we all were – two East Coast Italians and two West Coast Jews – celebrating the day. Sal was a retired firefighter who went into ground zero the second day. We were gathered directly under the Capitol Dome when the plane hit the Pentagon. I told them I was a Bush appointee and you would have thought I gave them Mama’s best cannolis. We got in our boats and drifted into the cavern of the Blue Grotto, where we floated side-by-side as our oarsmen sang Puccini arias in full voice. Life was never meant to be this wonderful.
We rode together in a Capri Cab – with the top down, of course – back to Anacapri, the other town on the island. We parted ways, but did not part from each other. Just as the horror of 9/11 will forever be seared into our memories, we will always remember where we were and what we did the day Bin Laden died.