New York City, which had more reason than most to wish Osama bin Laden dead, is taking the actual event rather calmly. There's a lively debate under way about the relative merits of the tabloid headlines: "Rot in Hell" (Daily News) vs. "Got Him!" (Post).
One circle is closed, ahead of the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center's collapse. The far right is going to have more trouble convincing the deluded that President Obama -- the man who did what George W. Bush couldn't -- is a closet Muslim, concealing his faith for some sinister intent. But it doesn't bring back our dead, and New Yorkers know it doesn't make us any safer.
To live in this city you have to be a little fatalistic. For years, we coped with crime rates so high that getting up in the morning meant wondering whether the new day would bring a stolen bike or a mugging, and everybody knew some normal middle-class friend who had suffered a violent attack.
Then crime plummeted, thanks in part to Rudy Giuliani and his police commissioner's tough-on-guns policy . (If Giuliani ever decides to run for president again, I'd be happy to volunteer to go to Iowa and South Carolina to tell the Republican voters how really fierce this guy was about keeping guns out of New York.)
For a few years we got to imagine we were gifted with the right of every American citizen to pretend we were invulnerable. Then came September 11, 2001. I was working at CBS at the time, and I got a hysterical call from a woman whose son worked at the World Trade Center. She was desperate to find out if he got out okay, and she thought that the all-knowing media would have the information. It wasn't the first time in my life I apologized for the imperfections of the news business.
The outpouring of affection, the offers of help and the spirit of solidarity that followed were astonishing to a city that was used to feeling a little bit set apart from the rest of the country -- somewhere between Iron Man and that Malfoy kid in the Harry Potter movies in our sense of distance. But then we were all together and when I watched the reports from Alabama this week, of the beleaguered tornado victims marveling at the kindness of strangers, I knew how they felt.
Then came the inevitable political messes -- witness the pathetic refurbishing of Giuliani's career as a terrorism fighter. Witness New York's failure to stand up and volunteer to hold the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed in Manhattan, which deserved to be witness to his sentencing.
And bin Laden outlasted a lot of things, but we got him before the 9/11 memorial could be opened to the public.
The rest of us will never be able to get on the subway again with the same feeling of security we had, for one shining decade, between the crime wave and the terrorism era. Now we're being warned that the killing of bin Laden will send a pack of revenge-bent bombers back in our direction.
You'd think if they had the capacity they'd have pulled it off by now.
We'll shrug. Maybe take a cab for a day or two, and then return to our imperfect reality for as long as we can get away with it.
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