Osama bin Laden is dead. Do you know where your duct tape and canned foods are?
The man we’ve been tracking for a decade, and the reason so many American lives have been lost in Afghanistan and Iraq, has finally been taken out by Navy SEALS in a Pakistan mission worthy of a Tom Clancy nail-biter.
Cheering crowds celebrated the mission in Washington, D.C. and New York City after President Obama announced late Sunday night that the face of evil we’ve been chasing for a decade had been killed and buried at sea.
I’m sure that many of us thought this day would never come and that at some point we would read about bin Laden’s death from old age in a cold, lonely cave somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan, a disappointing coda to America’s anti-terror efforts.
Seeing news reports of the daring raid brings back vivid memories of the days immediately after the 9/11 attacks. None of us will ever forget what it was like to live through that fear, especially here in the shadow of the nation’s capital when, for months, the constant hum of fighter jets in the sky became as common as the sounds of neighborhood kids playing outside my house on a warm spring day.
In the weeks that followed that tragedy, I wondered if my husband and I had done the right thing by bringing our new daughter to America from her birth country of China. Would she have been safer there? And I worried whether I could possibly stock enough bottled water, plastic to cover the windows, canned tuna, peanut butter, Cipro, and a battery powered radio to survive when the next attack happened, which many Americans were sure was coming. In light of the fact that it took my husband about five hours to drive home that day (a commute that usually took 20 minutes), we knew that there would be no easy escape or orderly exodus to safety with major roads clogged with panicky families the next time.
So we “prepared.” Like many other families, we went to Home Depot and bought plastic sheeting and duct tape. We headed to the grocery store, trying not to be conspicuous in the amount of toilet paper and juice boxes we crammed into the shopping cart. Everything that we stockpiled we kept on hand for months, and then years. But those emergency supplies stayed tucked away safely in a basement corner — just in case.
Eventually, our heightened vigilance faded. I wouldn’t say we became complacent, but we were resigned to the fact that no matter what we had in that so-called emergency kit, there was no real way to plan for the day when the next shoe would drop.
Almost ten years later, we still have gallons of water in the basement, but we can’t drink it after years of the plastic leeching into it, though we figured it might come in handy if there was a toilet flushing issue. Every now and then I think about the huge, dusty bin of supplies sitting in that same corner, that’s periodically been cannibalized for its paper plates, the can opener and bandages. About once a year, I wonder if I should restock the expired meds, buy some more H2O and and new radio batteries — you know, just in case. But then we all go back to living our life that’s filled with the routines of a soccer-obsessed fifth-grader and the work/life dance we do to keep everything going.
There’s no doubt that the news of bin Laden’s death is cathartic for Americans. A chapter has finally ended that we weren’t ever sure would. But even as we celebrate, we know that the other side of the ‘bin Laden is dead coin’ is gearing back up to that place of uber-vigilance. Because while it feels like closure for Americans, bin Laden’s death will surely bring a new beginning for his al Qaeda followers, as well as those in Pakistan who have long claimed to be against him when they were really playing all sides of the issue — also, just in case.
So today when I head out to the grocery store to grab some paper towels, milk and something to cook for dinner, I’ll also be wondering whether it’s a good moment to pick up some fresh bottled water and a few extra cans of tuna to start restocking my basement emergency kit. And I’ll be scoping out the shopping carts of others to see if they’re doing the same.
What about you?