Dan Mac Alpine: Many emotions at hearing of bin Laden's death, but joy not among them
I was enjoying a pitcher’s duel between the Mets and Phillies when the news hit: U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden. Numb disbelief filled me. Then a wave of relief. Then a surge of pride. I switched to CNN and called my daughter, who is studying the Middle East at NYU.
What I didn’t feel or, perhaps have yet to feel, is joy.
I felt relief that, maybe, the world may be a little safer today than yesterday. That with bin Laden dead we might have weakened the terrorists who twist and misuse the Islamic faith and created an opening for greater discourse between the Islamic world and us.
And relief that none of the Navy SEALs who swooped in on bin Laden were killed or wounded in the raid.
Pride that, despite our reputation as a nation where instant gratification rules, we had the determination to pursue justice and that our armed forces had the skill and courage to execute it.
But joy? No.
Rather than raising my fist and chanting, “U-S-A! U-S-A!" as an impromptu crowd in front of the White House was doing, my soul drifted back almost 10 years ago. I am at a computer keyboard, not unlike the one I am at now. I was editor of the Melrose (Mass.) Free Press then. Tears are drying on my face. I am writing a story on Ray Rocha, formerly of Melrose, killed in the Twin Towers.
I had spent most of the last two days interviewing Ray’s friends and family. He had graduated from Brown University and had moved to Hoboken, N.J., with his fiancée and taken a job as a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald. His life, the life of a young man, was unfolding for him and he was stepping into a future full of opportunity, family and friends.
Ray played football at Melrose High School and played some at Brown. Wide receiver.
“You know how some guys don’t like to go over the middle?” said one friend, or something close to that. She was a self-confessed football neophyte, but knew enough about the game to know that the middle of the field is where wide receivers go to get cut down by linebackers and safeties lowering their shoulder pads, readying to send a message to their opponents. “Well, Ray never hesitated to go over the middle. If the team needed it that’s where he went.”
Ray’s friends were a broad mix of people. Artists. Athletes. Those who’d been involved in school plays and productions. They all spoke about his smile, sense of humor, his intellect, his disdain for social cliques.
There’s now a scholarship fund set up in Ray’s memory.
A replica of his No. 17 jersey hangs on the side of the Melrose Middle School that overlooks the football field.
Melrose has a small park dedicated to Ray, next to the library, a bench and some bushes, a quiet, shady spot great for eating lunch or reading on a hot summer day.
And that’s where I drifted to, his grieving mother’s words echoing in my head, how Ann Rocha said she also felt sorry for the attackers because, “They had families. They all had mothers, too.”
Bin Laden’s death won’t bring back Ray. It won’t bring back the other 9/11 victims. It won’t bring back the U.S. soldiers killed in the grim, ongoing battle against terrorism.
In the face of such violence and loss, it’s hard to feel joy.
Dan Mac Alpine is senior editor of the Ipswich (Mass.) Chronicle.