When I look at this picture, I see a kid with a huge smile on his face. I see a teenage kid with his family posing for another family photo. He could easily think he’s too cool for it, but he wants to get in on the fun. You can sense a closeness in this picture. A genuine joy.
Almost 40 years after this photo was taken we have the one below, snapped as the news of that same kids’ assassination spread across the globe.
How did this kid, smiling with his family on a bright sunny day, become responsible for the blood of 3,000 men, women, and children? How did this kid become a man who could dream up using a passenger jet as a missile? How did this kid’s death become the cause for chants of “USA! USA! USA!” and waving American flags?
In looking at the contrast between these two photos one thing struck me, Osama Bin Laden was never just a man in the collective consciousness of our culture. His name was a symbol the moment it first came into our living rooms. It was a symbol of hate, of murder, of terror. Of evil, embodied. And so Osama Bin Laden became larger than life, he became more than a man to us. This allowed many to gather and cheer when he was killed. We held rallies, press conferences, and photo ops. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief. Our nation had slayed the boogeyman, we can now lay our heads back on our pillows and finally get some sleep.
And as we lay ourselves down to sleep, deep down inside of us, in that place we don’t like to always talk about, one simple truth remains: Osama Bin Laden was just like us. He got in fights with his mom and dad, and with his siblings too. He had to do menial chores like take out the garbage and do the laundry. He probably tutored his brother in math, and helped tuck his little sister in at night. No matter what propaganda teaches us, Osama Bin Laden was just a man.
I don’t write this to make Bin Laden a sympathetic character. We know that this kid would soon become a religious zealot. He would walk down a dark path of religious fundamentalism. He would preach his message with the goal of gaining enough followers to unleash a “holy war” on the west. He became bloodthirsty, and eventually would concoct a plan of mass murder that puts him on a short list of human beings who have had their hands in treachery of unthinkable proportions.
We can label him a monster. We can buy into the symbol of evil incarnate. In doing so, we may be able to sleep easier at night. But the truth is deeper. Osama Bin Laden was a child of God, fearfully and wonderfully created in His image. His birth was a gift to his parents, and to our world. He was loved deeply by His creator. He was a boy. A teenager. A man. Never more, never less.
I still don’t have an answer as to how this happened. I certainly don’t think I ever will. But I cannot get over how deeply this picture has touched my heart.
It’s pictures like this that make the beatitudes possible. Praying for our enemy seems heroic until you whittle it down and realize that our enemies are just like us. When I see this picture I think to myself, I wish I was there that day, it seems like it was a lot of fun. I wouldn’t mind meeting this family and that gangly kid with a green shirt and blue bellbottoms. I think, if given time, we might have been friends. I might have grown to love him.