05/07/2011 04:57 pm ET | Updated Jul 07, 2011

A Bin Laden Prequel: Flying to Jordan the Day Hussein Was Captured

There's nothing worse than being woken up in the middle of a transatlantic flight. You're trying valiantly to adjust your biological clock to a new schedule, and just as you nod off, the ding of the cabin PA system informs you that your efforts have been in vain and that you will, in fact, spend the next 48 hours recovering from jet lag instead of beginning your vacation.

Falling asleep in-flight was a triumph on my December 13, 2003, flight to London, the second leg of a trip to Jordan. We were all feeling festive -- O'Hare was glowing with giant illuminated doves and wreaths, and there were plans to spend the night in London on our return trip to allow for a detour to the Oxford Street lights. And there was the prospect of Roman ruins, Indiana Jones backdrops, Bible sites and time with much missed family in front of us. Sleep, needless to say, was elusive.

We had long since reached our cruising altitude, etc. etc. etc., when my catnap was interrupted by the captain's crackly voice informing us that Saddam Hussein had been captured in a hole outside Tikrit. Because he was still alive, I suppose, I felt none of the conflicted guilt at taking joy in a death that hit me last weekend when I heard the bin Laden news. And neither, apparently, did anyone else. The groggy, international group of passengers cheered and clapped, and we were all filled with the same spirit of unity and pride the world experienced last week. There were probably a dozen nationalities on that plane, and no one sniped about whether or not weapons of mass destruction existed. No one questioned the justice of the war in Iraq, and there were no partisan declarations of right and wrong. Maybe we were all just too tired. Or maybe, a man who committed genocide had been taken into custody, and no one could really argue with that.

And then we all tried to go back to sleep.

What we didn't know was that while we shifted our neck pillows and counted sheep, journalists and cameramen around the world were packing hastily, fighting with ticket agents, and trying desperately to get to Jordan -- the gateway to Baghdad. We didn't know we would miss our connection and spend the next twelve hours trying to get to Amman; that we would find ourselves running through a deserted Frankfurt airport and replacing our underwear at the Mecca Mall because our bags never made it.

When we touched down at Heathrow, it was with a festivity that didn't come from the garlands strung across the British Airways ticket counter. The Jordanians turned out to be warm and kind and thrilled to have us, and anti-American sentiment was nowhere to be found. Times have changed, I know, and this time, I'm stuck at home. But it's my hope that Americans abroad this week found the same sympathy and solidarity from strangers as we did on that plane and the week after in Jordan.