Osama bin Laden is dead.
The second those words flashed across the screen Sunday night, I knew people across the world would be reacting. Ten years of searching for this man and suddenly they had him.
It didn't feel real.
Like every other person connected to any form of social media, I immediately checked my Facebook to see what people were saying. That's the beauty of social media— it creates an immediate outlet for people to vent their feelings.
I read the same words over and over— the same sentence that flashed across the screen just after 9:30 Sunday night. The words rung in my ears. "Osama bin Laden is dead."
I was 18 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. I was living far from home and scared to death in the immediate hours that followed the attack. I was angry at the loss of life and the idea that across the world people were celebrating the death of thousands of innocent Americans. Like millions of other Americans, I was mad.
Nearly ten years later, I watched the culmination of trillions of dollars worth of vengeance, and I found myself a little surprised at my reaction to the reaction of others.
It was like this strange dichotomy of nausea and intrigue. I was sick at the thought of celebrating the death of another human, no matter how terrible a human being he was...and I wasn't expecting to feel that.
But I was also awestruck by the speed at which words were spreading about how he died, who killed him, when it happened. And of course the conspiracy theories.
You gotta love those.
I stayed silent and just watched as people posted their words— with one key stroke launching them into a permanent home in cyber space.
Some words were pretty damaging and, quite frankly, hateful and inhumane. Then I read this:
"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Powerful words that captured precisely what I was feeling. There's just one problem.
Martin Luther King, Jr. never said those words.
He said some of them, but somewhere along the way someone apparently thought it might be nice to contextualize the actual words of Dr. King to better fit what the way they were feeling and the additional text stuck.**
And then it went viral.
I've seen the same quote over and over and over in the last 36 hours. After so many times of something being repeated it eventually becomes truth.
I have a feeling that somewhere down the road the quote from May 1, 2011, will, in it's entirety, be attributed to Dr. King and end up in the canon of deep thoughts from the late civil rights leader.
Even though he didn't actually say it.
Besides that fact that the words of Dr. King may have been exaggerated— the statement rings true:
Hate cannot drive out hate.
I get it. There is a sense of relief. Closure. Even vengeance attached to the death of Osama bin Laden. We all have the right to process our feelings. And the reality is you cannot help what you feel.
It's too instantaneous to control.
No matter how detestable another human being's behavior is, the repercussions of celebrating his death are damaging to the sanctity of life for all humans.
I read this blog by Pamela Gerloff and some of her words struck me.
"The death of Osama bin Laden gives us an opportunity to ask ourselves:
What kind of nation and what kind of species do we want to be?
Do we want to become a species that honors life?
Do we want to become a species that embodies peace?
If that is what we want, then we need to start now to examine our own hearts and actions, and begin to consciously evolve in that direction. We could start by not celebrating the killing of another."
It's not easy— moving on with humility in our victory. But it is possible.
And for sake of our humanity, it might be necessary.
UPDATE: The 24-year-old English teacher abroad whose opinion got lost in MLK's quote. Thank you Facebook.