Osama bin Laden is dead. Shot in the head, it says in the papers, by Navy SEALS when they overran his fortress-like compound on the outskirts of Abbottabad, where Pakistan's military college is located. His body, hastily examined by forensics technicians, was dumped into the sea, it says in the papers, in accordance with Muslim customs.
(Is there a Muslim tradition of burial at sea? Surely there must be. The caliphates and sultanates of North Africa and the Middle East sponsored international trade and exploration. Sinbad was hardly a myth. Men of the faith must have died at sea, in battle or by misadventure. How were they, in the Golden Age of Muslim empire, dumped reverently overboard?)
My cousin Kenneth Waldie was atomized over New York on September 11, 2001 as a passenger of the weaponized jet flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46:40 a.m. His body was and then it wasn't. Or rather it was everywhere over New York that the careless wind took it.
There is no Catholic rite for discharging the "corporal work of mercy" of burying the dead when there is no dead to bury. A memorial mass is said instead. A photo stands in for the utterly departed.
(I wonder if, in the midst of the Cold War, Catholic theologians picked over the customs of my faith to provide a suitably reverent solution to the problem of the faithful rendered atomic by a nuclear bomb?)
Ken was a husband, a father, a coach, an engineer at Raytheon, and a graduate of Annapolis. We were about the same age. I met him only once, a few days after my mother died and when he was on his way to a Navy posting. I can't remember a single thing about the 24 hours he spent in my father's house.
Osama was a husband, a father, and a graduate of a Saudi university notable, in those days, for its apocalyptic view of history and its sick nostalgia for empire. Osama was a poet of ardent longing for the past. He was rich enough to use - and be used - by other men with insanely practical solutions for achieving what poetry promised. Osama also was a monster.
Ken and Osama are dead; they are gone in ways that were calculated to erase their presence in the world,
Ten yeats later . . . a day later . . . and I cannot bring myself to celebrate any man's death.
I feel nothing now but numb grief.
D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles every Monday and Friday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.
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