What impressed most when the news arrived late Sunday night was the cheering, yelling, flag-waving crowd that materialized almost immediately outside the White House. ("U.S.A! U.S.A!") In this country, a spontaneous demonstration can still be spontaneous. Nobody had to organize this celebration. It just burst forth. It came as naturally to Americans as breathing free, as celebrating the victory of good over evil.
Justice had finally been done. And when the news -- the long awaited news -- reached America, celebrations erupted. Everywhere. Especially in the heart.
The long arm of American justice had finally caught up with this mass murderer, who had managed to elude his just deserts for a long and arduous decade. The American eagle, talons extended and eyes ablaze, had landed on Osama bin Laden's plush doorstep. And justice would soon follow.
It had taken a decade of frustration and confusion, sacrifice and danger, to track him down -- a decade that, all too often, was a decade of disunity to boot. But this, this glorious night, was different from all other nights. All could celebrate tonight.
He who had delighted in killing the innocent was killed himself. Americans and, surely, free men everywhere could not suppress a shout of sheer, unbridled joy. There is something about justice done that thrills to the bone.
It was time to gather at the White House, in Times Square and at Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers once stood. And in that lonely field outside Shanksville, Pa., where one of the hijacked airliners went down before it could reach its target -- the White House? the Capitol?
A few paused at that quiet meadow after the news came to remember the Americans who had thwarted the hijackers' designs, and given their own lives in the effort. They were the first Americans to strike back at the terrorists, whatever it might cost them. "Let's roll!" one shouted. And they did. A whole nation did.
Just as Americans waved the flag on that first, awful September 11th, letting it stand for all the sorrow and anger and utter determination we had no words for, so once again it was time to unfurl Old Glory and let her wave, this time in celebration. The scenes in Times Square brought back those on V-J Day. We have not yet forgotten how to celebrate a triumph in a righteous cause. May we never forget.