It's Always Something

loose threads from a tightly wound mind.

Nikki Stern

Nikki Stern
Princeton, New Jersey, USA
April 10
whatever sounds good
Sure, come on in
Author of "Because I Say So: The Dangerous Appeal of Moral Authority" ( and "Hope in Small Doses" and busy blogger at


Editor’s Pick
MAY 2, 2011 10:37AM

Ding Dong: The Witch is Dead

Rate: 83 Flag

Exhausted after a day of stripping three rooms bare in anticipation of a painting crew, I crashed Sunday night around 10:30. The phone rang at midnight and again at 1 AM but of course, I couldn't find it—the phone, that is. So I didn’t hear the messages from the media outlets asking me, as a 9/11 widow, to comment on the death of Osama bin Laden.

Many cups of coffee, a bit of reading and several radio interviews later, I’m up to speed, more or less. Bin Laden is dead. So, inquiring minds want to know: how do I feel?

I think: I feel nothing.

No peace, no closure; no sense that justice has been served or that we are somehow safer. No interest in or desire to dance in the street or even head out with my dear friends and fellow widows for a drink—except that I want to honor their feelings. If this even makes them feel better, I’m happy for them.

The idea that I might be “relieved” is, on some level, odd. Last time I checked, terrorism was a many-headed beast and bin Laden something of a has-been. As an American symbol of delayed revenge, he was a useful if frustrating reminder of the horrible hurt that had been inflicted upon us. That we killed the bastard will be a lift to the national psyche, no doubt about it and will, for some, restore a sense of honor and pride.  We're all desperate for good news.  Maybe it will deal a blow to al Qaeda, although I’m not sure bin Laden has been much more than a figurehead for some time, if that. I think there may be some pressure to leave Afghanistan, which we entered ostensibly to catch the 9/11 mastermind. Certainly I’d like us to rethink our relationship and especially our aid to Pakistan, which hasn’t proven to be very helpful in the decade-long hunt.  

From a domestic political standpoint, this is an incredible coup for Obama, coming as it has on the heels of the release of his long-form birth certificate and his heady performance at the White House correspondents’ dinner. I’m not in the least suggesting bin Laden’s killing was timed (although I know conspiracy theorists are doing just that). Truth be told, the part of me that is Democratic Party animal is fist pumping like crazy. I know, that’s probably an unseemly reaction.

The truth of the matter is: I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel, only what others are projecting onto me. What’s appropriate? Satisfaction?  Of course I wanted to get back at bin Laden and anyone else who’d been responsible for my husband’s death. But I hadn’t ever known how that was going to “work” or how that was going to feel. And ten years later? Meh.

Well, do I feel justice was served? That’s also question I’m supposed to address. One of my interviewers asked me whether I would have preferred a trial at Guantanamo to this death by attack. I felt trapped; as if my choice would bring me face to face with something about myself I didn’t want to admit: that in some instances, quiet assassinations are preferable to media circuses (like the trial of Saddam Hussein) any day of the week.

Those admissions don’t make me feel better. Nor does reliving 9/11 over and over, like some dark version of “Groundhog Day.”  It’s the gift that keeps on giving, the story that never ends; the loose thread you pull on, only to find yourself once again unraveling.

So, another interviewer asked, does this give you a sense of closure? Seriously? Closure? As if this is a suitcase I can shut and put on the shelf and forget. No, the trauma of 9/11 is a wound that never quite heals because everyone, including me, continues to pick at it.

And yet, if time doesn’t exactly heal all wounds, it does allow us to adapt to them. And honestly, I do feel something: a little remembered pain and also gratitude for the many friends who write to tell me they’re thinking of me, even if they don’t know what to say and can’t quite understand how I feel. There's a little pride, I think, for our troops and our country, although I don’t want to take to the streets.  I feel, also, something that’s not exactly relief and certainly not closure but more as if a chapter of history is closing and I can move on to the next one.   

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
"As if this is a suitcase I can shut and put on the shelf and forget."
I appreciate this post from you so much, Nikki. ~r
You're one of the first people I thought of after hearing the news.
An important perspective is to hear from those directly effected. So thank you for taking the time to do so.
This is as circumspect and honest as I would have expected from you. I have never imagined you as a person who would find peace in the violent death of another, even someone who did you such grievous harm, and I am reassured to find that your thoughtfulness and respect for humanity shine through even a thick fog of confusion and pressure to give an easy answer.
I agree with your assessment that it's more like a chapter of history closing. Closure? Not quite, but it's a step in that direction.
I did too. How can it give someone closure? I cannot imagine how you relive this each day.
Everyone is rejoicing but myself while glad he was caught I fear for the repercussions.
My thoughts are with you, Nikki, and I thank the stars for your voice right now. Kudos to you for this: "I felt trapped; as if my choice would bring me face to face with something about myself I didn’t want to admit: that in some instances, quiet assassinations are preferable to media circuses (like the trial of Saddam Hussein) to media circuses any day of the week."

Nikki, thanks very much for your eloquent and thoughtful piece on this momentous story!
I was so hoping to read your perspective on this. (That song was going through my head this morning too.) And, wow, some of those interview questions made me wince.

Thank you for writing this today.
You amaze me. Thanks for writing to us, here - I'm so honored to read this.
I thought of you, and how it would just bring this whole trauma back, the whole carnival of what has become 9/11 back to your doorstep. I know it will never leave your memory, your heart. I doubted that this would be any type of closure and you beautifully relayed that to us. Peace, Nikki, in whatever form you find may find it.
Heard the news last night, and immediately thought of you . . . I wondered if I was alone in my ambivalence regarding the event itself . . . you have articulated your feelings with such eloquence, Nikki . . . bless you for your honesty, and for giving voice to a great many who do not have a platform . . .
That is so true! I think it takes time for everyone to process what this means.
Congratulations on the EP!
Love from the north pole, sweetie. Love and hugs are what we can send to you! We are lighting candles tonight, to remember the loves lost.
Thanks for taking the time to offer your valuable perspective.
Well put, Nikki. I would love to wring the necks of those journalists who asked you those ridiculous questions.

I so appreciate your perspective on this, Nikki, not just as a "widow's point of view," but as a smart as hell person with a nuanced understanding of geopolitical realities. Your point about Pakistan is very important. It is a nation divided, with an intelligence service that (semi-)covertly aids terrorists while the public face of their government denounces terrorism. We need to do more to push Pakistan fully into the camp of anti-terrorist nations.

And on a personal note, don't let the media circus grind you down. You are in a tough spot--or spotlight, really--and I know too many strangers are peering at you right now, wanting to know "how it feels." Take care of yourself first and respond to them only as much as you feel like.
Even on a morning such as this, you gift us with your grace.
I hope you know that whether you hear their voices or not today, many here are holding you and sending thoughts of love.
I appreciate this, Nikki.
YAY!! Everything goes back to normal now right? Hello? :(

It’s been reported that the Navy Seals killed him in about 2 minutes but were at the compound for 45 minutes and retrieved computers and other evidence. While we now have been rightly alerted about possible reprisals I think this would be a good time to say - to those whose names may be linked to the evidence - to give themselves up. Even though they probably wouldn’t, it seems like the right thing to do.
Read and appreciated. My colleague escaped the towers that day; she feels the same way.
I feel this, Nikki--conflict and all. Well done, as always.
Your last paragraph says is all -- I'm sure you have a number of thoughts, feelings, emotions -- but closure -- nah, scars are never really closed, they are always there. Frankly, yours was the one perspective I wanted to see, thank you.
So honest and so brave Thank you.
I was looking forward to your take on this. Bueno!
Thinking of you much today, and your smile and your past, and most of all, your future. Thank you, Nikki.
I wish we would put the word "closure" in a footlocker and bury it somewhere. Thank you for your measured, thoughtful, and very valid thoughts today. While I cannot/will not judge anyone's reactions to this news as good or bad, you stand as the pinnacle of courage, class and dignity in my opinion.
We can't know your pain, but we all know loss and were affected collectively and individually by the events of 9/11. Thank you for sharing your unique point of view with such honesty and eloquence. You have given us a perspective we can all hope to achieve.
We can't know your pain, but we all know loss and were affected collectively and individually by the events of 9/11. Thank you for sharing your unique point of view with such honesty and eloquence. You have given us a perspective we can all hope to achieve.
So thoughtfully stated. I always wonder how are we or me or you supposed to feel. The question that is always asked and at which we are lost as to answer. I remember Barbara Walters interviewing Ray Charles and asking "How does it feel to be blind?" How can a few words ever tell how it feels, how anything that is real, and we can't change it, "feels." Thank you for this post.
rated with love
Thank you for eloquently summing up exactly what I've been feeling. Not, of course, the personal perspective on 9-11, but the lack of feeling "victory" from this event.
Thank you for writing. We all do need connection.
Human life--a complicated business. I just hope all the renewed focus doesn't stir up too many painful memories.
Eloquently honest, Nikki. I didn't find out about it until this morning, either. My wife was up when it came across on TV. She said she didn't feel like waking me, and I'm glad she didn't.
Nikki, I haven't known quite what I feel about this news either. Whatever your piece made me feel brought tears to my eyes.
Nikki your fist pumping Dem-tendencies is hardly untoward. The folks dedicated to showing that our President is a wuss so as to take his they may realise that they should find work elsewhere, perhaps in a shoe store.
Bless you, friend.
Maybe the "smart" blood-thirsty ilk (sad) folks who orchestrate these bloody GREED wars cancan dance in the streetswith Red Dresses and learn to buff,
and shine soft`
yellow flip-flop`
slipper shoes for `a
Loose monetary bloody`
Change... Sad Day say.
naive youth with red-white`
and blue flag symbols duh.
Why provoke more violence?
Take care. Who shares gadget?
My contraption acts way too loco.
I tried t comment earlier. Hi Nikki.
Thanks. It's comforting to sense Ya's`
Inner character and upright stature.
I didn't know anybody who died in the airplane crashes and building collapses of Sept 11, 2001. I feel no satisfaction in Bin Laden's death, either. There are always people ready to fill power vacuums. The only people who are truly affected by his death are the people who loved him.
Thank you for posting your thoughtful response.
Your perspective is thoughtful, honest, and eloquent, Nikki--as always. xo
What a welcome note of sanity on this never satisfying story. Yes, you were one of the first people I thought of when I heard the news. Yes, I don't understand the revelers either. Killing people never brings legitimate joy. Violence and war are too primitive to have any legitimate place on this planet today. Our evolution lags dangerously behind the challengers of our circumstances. I suppose bin Laden had to be taken out of action, but Guantanamo is shameful, and a trial would be what you say it would be.. Now we may be in for an upsurge of violence from terrorists whose pride is wounded by bin Laden's murder. The tragedy seems to tick along as if an ancient Greek playwright were writing it. And Greek tragedies never end well. Blessings on us all.
But will America now withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, or will your government search for NEW REASONS to justify your continued military presence there?

You said you went into Iraq to find WMDs. There were none. And yet you stayed.

You said you went into Afghanistan to find Bin Laden. Now you have killed him. Will you stay still?

Will you find new reasons to justify your occupation? Will you forget the old ones easily?
i though of you when i heard the news; i understand nothing of what you have gone through or are still experiencing since 9-11-01. i wish you peace and continued smiles and laughter.
My condolences on the loss of your husband. I don't think anyone ever experiences closure, when people we love deeply, pass away.
I'm glad you wrote here, Nikki.
You are the only person I 'know' who lost a loved one on 9/11, you are the only person I really care about hearing from today...I appreciate your thoughts....
...and good luck on the painting, I'm doing the same here myself...does this mean you are painting to ready for a move as you were considering? or just spring painting? : )
He's just a symbol; I feel like you do, meh. My cynicism has taken over.
I've never fully understood the need to revenge death with death to the extent it is practiced in this country as if it is an "obligation" for those who were victimized. I think that's what you are referring to as "projection." It doesn't bring the loved one back, which is the loss.

My wife died as a result of industrial negligence, so I am not a stranger to the emotional entanglement. To me, to be frank it speaks for the immaturity of our culture in general--like we are all mobsters who want to see "justice" done in some perverted view of what justice is.

The "causes" are what matter--what leads to this sort of hatred, ignorance, abd indifference in the first place, that is what is of lasting importance if this species is ever going to stop destroying itself.

If more stood by their own truth, as you do, rather than succumb to the mass consensus, some progress is made.
Beautifully said.
One of the most grounded perspectives I've read on this all day. Thank you, Nikki.
Thank you. I cannot imagine how you must have felt sitting down to write this piece. To me, your thoughts on this matter are luminous for they shed light on this dark dilemma. There is no clarity, only hope. Hugs to you, Nikki Stern.
Honest and measured and eloquent and plainspoken. I know you but still this seems fresh and new.

I love the way you write. It's as if anyone one can just write well, just say true and balanced things, and proceed one to the other, eezy peezy. Plant your feet, look em in the eye, tell the truth, as Jimmy Cagney said. Clarity about complexity ensues. Here I am nodding along, reading this, thinking "of course" and, er, "that makes sense", as if it were easy to be honest about pain, easy to follow one's head and heart in all things.

My respect for you was great. It is now immense. As a writer I feel a bit the piker after this, and in the good way. There are no simple answers, but there are recognizable human circumstances, and you give them a Voice.

And not for nothing but F Pakistan six ways to Sunday. A "hole" in their intelligence indeed. bin Laden the spoiled trust fund baby Che-wanna-be, lounging in luxury in a mansion in their capital? Again, F Pakistan, I say.

Leave it to you Nikki to always know the exact thing to say, how to so aptly describe your feelings this day after the capture and death of Bin Laden. I heartily agree with you about closure. Survivor, Dr. Petiti who lost his wife and 2 daughters to two murderous criminals during a random home attack in Connecticut 3 years ago had this to say after one of the criminals was sentenced to death and he was asked by a reporter if this helped provide closure, '"Whoever came up with the concept of closure is an imbecile." Anyone who has experienced tragedy at these levels knows exactly what he is talking about. Excellent post Nikki. And I am sad once again for you that all of these events are being stirred up once again.
nikki, i have no words, nor the ability to say something useful (nothing ever is)
thank you for posting this, thank you for sharing this
The only things I am able to share with you Nikki are the hollow, dark feelings of loss that persist. The circumstances of loosing my brother in 2006 does not carry the weight of your incredible loss, and the events around it...but I carry some of that grief with you...and yes, I think of you often friend....
Thank you for this thoughtful, honest piece, my heart goes out to you.
Yes, as others have said, I too thought of you, and my friend Mike who worked the mash unit for rescue dogs at ground zero for 17days after the attack. Peace to you my talented friend. ...and love from so many of us. xo R
Straight from the heart.
Reading this, I immediately thought of the song "Nothing" from "A Chorus Line."

"Six months later I heard that Karp had died
And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
And Cried
Cause I felt nothing..."

You have been thru a lot. Whatever that feeling is, it will come in its time.
Thank you so much. R
This is precisely the response of a smart person: nuanced, complicated, uncertain, contradictory. The world loves a narrow-minded, clear-cut, binary answer, but that is the sort that comes from a buffoon. You are wise, Nikki.
So glad to hear from you. I don't have the strength of connection to 9/11 that you have, but my feelings are similar. I have no urge to dance in the streets, I take no joy in his death. Only the hope that it might bring our troops home sooner.
Thank you for sharing your feelings with such eloquence..-R-
Thank you Nikki. I did want to know how you feel. I appreciate that you knew that and took the time to tell us. I won't listen to any talking heads about this. Their opinions simply do not matter to me.

"Truth be told, the part of me that is Democratic Party animal is fist pumping like crazy. " Me too, and for the same reasons. In fact, you mirror most of my feelings here. I do use the word "relief" though, simply because this one part is finally over. I am glad that Americans did it, on our own terms, face-to-face. He knew it was us and he knew he was about to die. Yes, I do derive some satisfaction from that. Our troops showed extreme courage, unlike their cowardly target.
Wishing you Peace, Nikki.
I've been crying intermittently all day. I don't know why. Maybe it is a sense of tremendous relief that the most notorious criminal of our time has been killed. That a terrorism focal point has been nullified. That a murderous mastermind has been removed from the world. Thank you Barrack Obama. You are my hero.
I don't think anyone can understand. But the closest personal reference I have is this:

My grandfather had Alzheimers disease before he died. Since I lived across the country from him, I didn't see it happening to him and my family didn't say. I brought my wedding album to share with him inn California, because he hadn't been able to attend the wedding. He listened to me so sweetly, so attentively while I turned the pages and told him about the friends and new relatives in the photos. When I had gone through all the pictures I turned back to the first page where I had pasted the engraved invitation to my wedding.

He read it, and looked at me, and said "That's my granddaughter's name." It hit me like a ton of bricks that he didn't recognize me. He lived a few more years, but the loss of him hurt long before he died. And all these many years later tears come to my eyes when I think of him. I never fight the tears because they are something of what remains of one of the great loves of my life and someone with whom I shared great joy, who loved me for who I really am. Now no one knows me like that or loves me quite like that and my life is good, but it is not the same.

I lost my father to suicide when I was seven, but it is that relationship I had with my grandfather that's the closest reference I have. I just don't think anyone can ever truly know how we might feel. Or what it means to do what we must to move on.

July 21st, if someone was stupid enough to call me up and ask me how I feel on his birthday, I hope I will be so busy having a life that I won't think of it. Not because I don't still love him awful, but because I am having the life he would have wanted for me, and it is Summer and there are squash and flowers to pick in the garden.

Peace and joy to you friend Nikki.
I can fully understand how killing Bin Laden doesn't really do much to provide a sense that justice has been served.

I was a little surprised by the celebration last night. However, after more thought the historical importance of this for the United States and to a lesser extent the world deserves some recognition.

Bin Laden was much more than a 'washed up' elder statesman championing global terror directed at developed countries in general and the US in particular. He was a living symbol of an idea that has perhaps been waning, but still has significant traction in parts of the world.

The US response to the Sept 11th attacks seem to have been similar to an auto immune disease. Our response has caused enormous damage to our country. No need to discuss disastrous national security decisions.

In spite of this - we have not witnessed a repeat in the United States. And perhaps we can have some national reconciliation based on the thought that the intentions and motivations can be separated from numerous unfortunate outcomes.

And, at the least, it seems very likely that this has saved a lot lives. Unprovable, but it seems too easy to underestimate his symbolic importance to global terrorism.
I hate the word closure. The death of bin Laden doesn't do anything to change the jaw dropping and sickening change in my emotions when the idea of enjoying myself at a trade show in San Diego and inking some contracts was replaced by horror and disgust as I saw images that I will never forget on the TV.

It doesn't do anything to replace the feelings of anger and frustration I had as I drove by the Pentagon every day for ten months and was reminded of the horror of that day.

And it sure as hell won't bring back the dead or put the trillions of dollars we've spent back in the Treasury.

Is it good that the son of a bitch is no longer on the planet? Yes. And may he rot in hell.

But closure? Who invented this definition of it and can we please remove if from our language?
Words seem absurdly inadequate at times like this, but this was a fascinating and wonderfully thoughtful post and, well, bless you.
"It’s the gift that keeps on giving, the story that never ends; the loose thread you pull on, only to find yourself once again unraveling."
Beautiful writing, thought-provoking sentiments, astringent honesty. This piece belongs on ... and I saw it there this morning, though I prefer to read it in it's true home, with the other OSers.
In the end there is no right or wrong way we should feel about what has happened. There is no text book rule that guides us. You feel what is right for you and that should be enough. I wish, for you, only peace.
I must have seen this title out of the corner of my eye because I have been using it on a lot of posts today. Ding Dong Indeed.
thanks, Nikki

It is really interesting to read Americans to comment the story about killing Osama bin Laden.

I must say first that I never a moment believed the original stories about Osama bin Laden behind 9/11. I think that there must have been at least some American involvement in 9/11. Osama bin Laden was maybe already dead during 9/11...

The story about killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and the body buried in the sea... I must say that I don't believe a word.

Now it is interesting to see what will happen next.

Americans pulling out of Afghanistan? More and more killing people in Pakistan?
I am prepping to moderate a symposium on D-Day next week. My interview subjects are men who were there. Men who survived the unimaginable. Even now, 66 years later, they break-down while telling their stories. They resist the memories that haunt them. They refuse to open up and spill their guts for the sake of simple entertainment.

There is no good here, only reality. Bad men do bad things, and they pay an ugly price for it. Good men do bad things to protect the rest of us from the bad men. Both good men and bad men make mistakes. Some of those mistakes cost lives. Those mistakes cannot be taken back, done over, or reversed.

The celebratory mood I'm seeing on the news concerns me. I am not saddened that Usama bin Laden was killed in a violent confrontation. That lifestyle was his choosing and I have no right to relieve him of it. But I am not happy, or safer, or emboldened by this reality.

A bad man is dead at the hands of someone else. That's a fact. It is not good or bad or indifferent. It just is. I have no feeling about it at all - nor am I sure that I should.
Thank you for saying what I have been thinking. Coming from you, it will make more of an impact.
I was thinking of you when I heard the news. I'm know "closure" (or the process of grief) isn't based upon achieving certain goals, but I hope this does open another door and that you can feel the wind blow.
This is a moving post, someone who lost a life long friend on 9/11, I don't know how to feel either. So, I'm just taking it one day at a time...xox
Oh Nikki, you inspire such incredible respect for your honesty that dares to live in the question, for your strength that continues to thrive in spite of and because of your open wound, for your intelligence that looks past the convenience of the deception of comforting salves of blame or stereotyping or slogan, for your fierce, bright spirit. You present integrity. So beautifully expressed. And I wish you love and peace, in this late but first revisit to OS in weeks.
Have I ever said I love you, because I really do.

I had a very strange experience over the past few days.

I couldn't remember who you were.

What I mean by this is that I knew there was someone on OS who lost her husband on 9/11 but, for the life of me, I couldn't remember your name.

I wanted to see what you had to say about the taking of Osama bin Laden (I would have said assassination but I am being polite today.)

Now that I have found your post (and I don't know how I missed it the first time around, or remember how I stumbled into it just now), you've rewarded me with exactly the right pitch of comments that have outdone my own, admittedly more vituperative efforts.

I was deeply dismayed by the jubilations that our fellow citizens used to express themselves. I'm not glad he's dead. I know that we could not have tried him successfully because there's actually no physical evidence to tie him to any of his crimes, In most of those cases, all we have are his own recorded statements and that's not enough to convict someone unless that person also confesses to the crimes....but I know a lot of people don't get that point.

The really deep point, which you make so clearly, is that bin Laden doesn't mattered, and hasn't matter for quite some time and the taking of bin Laden simply makes him au courant again, once more a cause celebre, a rallying point for disturbed personalities seeking justifications for their erratic behavior.

It should have been done quietly, covertly. The only reason we even know about it now is that it was announced publicly.

I disagree with you about the timing. There's no such thing as coincidence in politics. Accidents, yes. Coincidence, no. I can't believe that, after having the house under surveillance for four months, they just happen to decide to strike when they did - precisely when Obama so desperately needed a bump in the polls.

I guess the bottom line, when all is said and done, is that, if OBL's death gives Obama the shot in the arm he needed to get back on track, then it was a death well spent.

Please don't bother to read my post on this subject. I've already rehashed the gist of it here and if you were to take offense to anything I wrote, well, I would be crushed.

Namaste my friend. Peace be with you or as my old teacher used to say, "Blessed be."
Thank you.

Thank you.