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Jaime Castillo
May 04, 2011

Osama bin Laden and 9/11: A NYC Perspective

Monday morning I woke up to get ready for work, and reached for my phone on the nightstand. I hit the “mail” button, glanced over the emails that were sent throughout the night, nothing too urgent thankfully. My final step in my “before getting out of bed” waking process is to check Twitter. I primarily use Twitter to receive news updates from CNN, ABC, BBC, TIME, Wall Street Journal, etc… Each morning I get a blast of brief updates on my feed that just let me know what’s going on in the world. Monday morning all I read was, “OBL confirmed dead.” At first I wasn’t sure what it meant, then it hit me. “Wow, Osama Bin Laden is dead.” As I ate breakfast I was thinking, “Ok, so what does this mean now?” “Is it over?” “Is the world safer now?” “How is my life going to change now that OBL is dead?”

When 9/11 happened I was a senior in a rural high school in northeast Pennsylvania. I remember being in study hall when we heard the news, we spent the rest of the day watching the events unfold on televisions, and having discussions on what could happen next. When school let out life went on as normal, those of us in sports when to practice, others went home to just hang out. Other than the discussions we’d continue to have in our Sociology, or History classes, nothing really changed at my school, or in my town after 9/11. I for one really didn’t have any particular emotions towards it at first; it was like, out of sight out of mind.

My aunt, on the other hand, had a much different experience. The bank she worked for was in the impact zone of the South Tower and lost 15 employees. When I returned home from school I remember my parents telling us that Clara worked in the World Trade Center, and that her bank got hit by one of the planes. My aunt was okay though, because she and my uncle had left for vacation two days before. Seeing my aunt two months later at Thanksgiving was very emotional, and the first time I felt the impact of 9/11.

The death of Osama Bin Laden has reopened many wounds for some New Yorkers. In my discussions with staff at my agency many have chosen not to use the subways or visit any NYC based attractions since the attacks. The most common retort I’ve heard in these conversations is, “Well if you don’t ride the subway, then THEY win.” “Fine,” the staff often reply, “Let them win, I’m not going to use the subway, go into tall buildings, or visit the Statue of Liberty again.” Every New Yorker was impacted by what happened 10 years ago, and the majority of them have not been able to truly cope with the magnitude of the events. As a counselor, it worries me. What will be the long-term effects of these individuals? Is there going to be a spike in PTSD among New Yorkers in 10-20 years?

Even I have felt the anxiety of terrorism. I remember just a few months ago sitting in traffic entering the Holland Tunnel on the New Jersey side, and having a sudden rush of anxiety and fear. I saw a few moving trucks ahead of me and thought to myself, “Well… what if?” “The security doesn’t seem too tough, anyone could do anything in this tunnel and that’s it.” I remember grabbing my cell phone and wallet from the cup holder, and putting them both in my pocket in case I needed to jump out and run. I’ve never had those feelings before, but all of a sudden I was hit with this anxiety of, “it could happen.” Even on my daily commute on the subways, I would be lying if I said I never thought about a bomb going off on the train. I think we all have those thoughts, but don’t let it overtake us. I think to myself, do I need to talk to someone about my fears?

As I said earlier, the death of Osama Bin Laden has reopened some wounds. The local news coverage has been saturated with interviews of families who have lost loved ones to 9/11 or to the war. The majority of the families have said in response that, “The death of Osama doesn’t bring closure, it’s not going to bring my boy back, but hopefully it puts a little dent in their system.” I’ve noticed the families don’t view this as revenge, rather just another step closer to closing the book.

In reflecting about what the last few days has brought to me, I think the most interest conversation I experienced about Osama’s death was one I was not involved in. Towards the end of the day on Monday I was sitting in the staff office of the group home I was working in when I heard two clients engage in a conversation. This is a group home for individuals with mild mental retardation and co-morbid diagnosis mind you, and conversations with each other, let alone about current events can be rare, but not today. The news about Osama’s death reverberated with them deeply, and I found that their conversation summed up how many New Yorkers feel.
Client 1: “ Did you hear about that guy that died?”
Client 2: “Which guy?”
Client 1: “Osama.”
Client 2: “Yes….he was evil.”
Client 1: “He deserves it after what he did to us.”
Client 2: “Is it safe now?”
Client 1: “I don’t know.”

Jaime Castillo is a counselor who works for a non-profit agency in New York City.

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