Apodaca: Symbols give us more than we realize

I had been planning to write something snarky about the breathless media coverage of Britain's royal wedding, and plea for a return to focusing on the important stories of our time, like Lindsay Lohan's shoplifting trial.

I considered the obsession with Prince William's nuptials to be a royal pain, filled with overblown pomp and pomposity, anachronistic traditions, and ridiculous Lady Gaga hats. Why should we — in the land of the self-made — care so deeply about what is largely an antiquated symbolic display of inherited privilege?

But in the past few days, I've changed my tune and toned down my snarkiness. The reason, somewhat paradoxically, is that the death of Osama bin Laden has led me to appreciate the importance of symbols.

To be sure, the killing of Bin Laden is far more than just a symbolic victory. He was the head of a worldwide terror network responsible for unspeakable crimes, and his continued existence posed an ongoing threat to our security and freedom. Our actions were just, and they were necessary.

But Bin Laden's death is also deeply meaningful because of the idea it represents. It reminds us who we are, and why we fight to preserve that very notion of what it is to be American. It's a message that we badly needed in this age of cynicism and divisiveness.

Like millions of others, I spent the hours after the president's speech glued to the TV, hungry for any and all details behind the successful raid on Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. I watched transfixed as crowds gathered and celebrated in Washington D.C. and New York.

At first, I was a little surprised at the extent of the revelry. This was the news we'd waited nearly 10 years to hear, but shouldn't we greet it with greater solemnity and circumspection, I thought. After all, Bin Laden's elimination, however righteous, can never erase the pain and suffering he caused.

What's more, government officials had been measured in their comments, avoiding any hint of gloating and warning that the war on terrorism is far from over. Indeed, they cautioned that his death might trigger reprisals, and that a heightened state of alertness was warranted.

But in their coverage of the celebratory crowds, TV news correspondents repeatedly commented on the overwhelming numbers of young people present, noting that most of them must have been in elementary school on 9/11 — just as my two sons had been. The events of that day were the defining moment of their generation, a time when the world around them changed forever, ushering in a hard new realization about the future that lay out before them.

This is the generation that has lived through two wars in the wake of that horrible day. It is a generation that has been warned to expect less; that they could be the first group of Americans to see worse conditions than their parents. It is a generation that's been told it will have to pay for problems it had no hand in making.

So it is only right and natural that they should see this victory as a moment to rejoice — not because we won something, but because we won something back.

Killing should never be given easy passage, no matter how despicable the provocation. But Bin Laden's death gives back to our young people a promise that we won't give up, that we'll keep fighting for what we believe is right, and that we're still committed to making the world a better place.

We rarely agree on which road we should take to arrive at that destination. Soon enough, the backbiting and hypocrisy and bitterness that too often pervade our society will no doubt resurface.

But in this one moment of unity, this one instance of shared satisfaction, we are all Americans and we all have reason to hope that better days may indeed lie ahead. The defeat of Bin Laden, at long last, is a symbol of that resolve.

So for those who slavishly followed every detail of Britain's wedding extravaganza, I get it now. You were seeing a symbol of love and tradition, a transcendent moment of pure beauty in an often harsh and unforgiving world. Symbols like that can make life worth living, and I will mock you no more.

Well, maybe just a little. I mean, come on now — those hats are really nuts.

PATRICE APODACA is a Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She is also a regular contributor to Orange Coast magazine. She lives in Newport Beach.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World