It’s been just a few hours since the news broke of the death of Osama bin Laden. Too soon to know all the details of how he was killed, to grasp the full scope of how the world will react, to find out how long it will be before Donald Trump takes credit.
But one thing’s certain: it sure feels like a momentous occasion. From a cold-blooded, rational perspective, I’m not sure that it really is–after all, daily life will be little different for me or anyone else tomorrow morning. And even those who lost family and friends on 9/11 will, sadly, continue to live on without their loved ones.
Emotionally, though, this is a huge deal. There’s something psychologically powerful about closure. How else to explain why I’m watching TV past midnight on a Sunday, mesmerized by the old loop of B-roll footage of bin Laden with the rifle, bin Laden with the microphone, bin Laden making easy conversation with a colleague in a cave… I’ve seen all this before, but somehow it feels important to watch it again, this time within the context of a more definite and appealing resolution to the story; it feels important to share this moment with others, whether with the jubilant masses in Times Square tonight or via the streaming feed of Twitter.
You hear it all the time from families who have been victimized by crime. They subject themselves to the anguish of sitting in the courtroom and hearing the gruesome and tragic testimony regarding their loved one’s final moments, all in the hopes of a guilty verdict for the perpetrator, a harsh sentence, and, ultimately, closure. And I suppose that’s the only good explanation for why I’m still watching this coverage despite a long, tiring weekend and an early wakeup tomorrow. Learning that bin Laden has been killed allows us to relive 9/11, but in the best way possible: with the happy (or at the very least just) ending.
There’s something reassuring about the belief that the world is a fair and just place where the good guys win the end and no bad deed goes unpunished. We like seeing our social universe as a place where people get what they deserve. So while we were all wracked with grief in the wake of the horrifying events of one decade ago, that angst was compounded by the inescapably jarring threat to our world view posed by the senseless death of so many innocents.
It took almost 10 years for us to get our Hollywood ending, the one where the conscience-less villain meets his well-deserved demise. No, it’s not really a “happy” ending by any sense of the word. No, it doesn’t change what happened in September of 2001. But it does give us all some much needed closure.
Sam Sommers, Psychology Today