The air so still it aches like the place where the tooth was on the morning after you’ve been to the dentist or aches like your heart in the bosom when you stand on the street corner waiting for the light to change and happen to recollect how things once were and how they might have been yet if what happened had not happened.’ Robert Penn Warren, All The King’s Men Remembering how things once were comes in flashes.
Packing for a trip, you stick the bottles of shampoo and Jo Malone Gardenia in used Jiffy bags before tucking them into the suitcase that you will check in. You wear your best socks and shoes that slip off easily and during the long zig-zag wait for your turn to remove those shoes, you have time to recollect on how travelling used to be. You don’t, of course. Silent and solemn as a cow in a crush, you stretch out your arms in order to be patted and wanded in a security check that will determine if you are a terrorist who will storm the cockpit or a middle-aged woman whose adjustable bra straps trigger a beep.
We accept these time-consuming and costly pre-liminaries because the alternative-a bomb in a Nike trainer, a wire-cutter in a hollowed-out copy of The Da Vinci Code is too terrible to think about. We also accept them because the images of 9/11 and 7/7 are engraved in our memories and we feel vulnerable and mortal.
And even if we don’t say it out loud, we feel angry. In the days leading up to the Royal Wedding, I was so worried that fanatics might penetrate the ‘ring of steel’ promised by the police that I could hardly read the column inches speculating on the wedding dress. I searched instead for robust signs that would assure me that Muslims Against Crusades wouldn’t get near Westminster Abbey. As the nation rejoiced at the magnificence of the tree-lined Abbey, the beautiful bride, the adorable groom, a perfect ceremony filled with tenderness and love, I was overcome with relief that the day had been as peaceful as the Royal Wedding three decades earlier.
I was still making my way through the fat Saturday papers on Monday morning, relishing the picture of the bride and groom driving down The Mall in the Aston Martin, a carefree scene as vintage as the car itself, when I heard the news that the greatest terrorist of the modern age, the man who poisoned the new century with his nihilistic rage and hatred, was dead. At first, it seemed like one of those moments when history converges.
The day on which it was announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed-May 2 -was the anniversary of the Soviet Union announcing the Fall of Berlin and the surrender of Nazi troops in Italy and Austria in 1945. The end of a war that brought a wave of hope to a war-weary world.
And another tapestry of dates: Prince William began his university life in September 2001, only days after 9/11. His relationship with his new wife has been as long as the search for the world’s most evil man. His-tory is a many-layered thing.
An era has passed. The wedding of William and Catherine reminded a troubled land of the power of happiness and hope. The death of bin Laden closes a painful decade of war and fear. We can’t go back to a time when what happened didn’t happen. Closure is a dumb word, but there is a feeling that this is a new beginning.
The threats to our world are real, with or without bin Laden, but there is a chance that we can steer the Arab revolutions toward demo-cracy. The possibility of an end to the war in Afghanistan. More important still: this is the time to make Israel and Palestine meet the demands of the post-bin Laden era. The air is still, but, today, the ache is more chronic than acute. There’s everything to pray for.