Most people would agree that the ten years since the September 11th terrorist attacks have been pretty shitty ones. War, disaster, and economic collapse have all seemed to come pouring out of the hole at Ground Zero as if from Pandora's box. But! Light!
Some good things, in fact probably many good things, have happened in the last decade too. So as a way to drown out the fear and dread for just a little bit on a Friday afternoon, let's take a look at ten good things that have happened since the world turned, generally, a lot darker and scarier.
The Salt Lake City Olympics came just five months after the attacks, and what better way to feel a warm, stirring feeling of nations coming together over something universal and good than the Olympics? Sure the Olympics are, as an institution, rife with problems, but fuck that! The Olympics are also great, inspiring and thrilling and, yes, pretty damn patriotic. The Salt Lake games saw the crushing heartbreak of Michelle Kwan's stumble, but also the come-from-nowhere victory of another American figure skater, Sarah Hughes. An Australian speedskater won that country's first-ever gold medal in a Winter Games because of sheer crazy luck. The Canadians ended a fifty year hockey drought with a win in the men's competition. It was a Olympics of firsts, a feel-good couple of weeks held in America at a time when Americans needed a whole lot of feel-good.
On February 15th, some ten million protesters, spread out across six hundred cities, gathered to protest the invasion of Iraq. So while this event was born out of a bad thing, ten million people — many of them young, many of them having never protested anything before — coming together to call for peace is a pretty amazingly good thing. Of course the cries fell on deaf ears, but that a stand was taken is important, and helped to galvanize a new generation of politically engaged human beings.
Sox win! Sox win! After a thrilling come-from-behind win against the Yankees in the ALCS, Boston's finest swept the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series since World War I. Sure it made Boston sports fans even more obnoxious, and yes a girl did die in Kenmore Square during a post-ALCS riot, but still. Still to walk down Comm Ave and hear the horns honking and people cheering for hours and hours... Pretty magical.
After years of Susan Lucci-esque neglect, Martin Scorsese finally won the Best Director Oscar for The Departed. Yeah, yeah, it wasn't for his best movie, not by a longshot, but still. It was long overdue and after that people could finally shut up about it. We all won.
I started working at Gawker! No, just kidding. A great thing that happened in 2007 was the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the deeply satisfying conclusion to JK Rowling's masterful, soon to be canonical wizarding book series. Potter fans the world over turned off the damn TV for a few days in July and read til their eyes bled. And then they cried.
Duh. In 2008 Barack Obama became the first non-white president of the United States. A truly benchmark moment in modern American history. Say what you will about his presidency since then, but at that moment this country lurched forward for the good. Whether we were "ready" or not does not matter. It's that we did it, that it's happened, that it could hopefully happen again.
Following a disputed election in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated two well-liked reformist politicians, thousands of Iranians planned and staged, using Twitter and other social networking platforms, massive protests in Tehran and elsewhere. The so-called "Green Revolution" served to remind the Iranian powers that be, and the rest of the world, that Iran is not a country of a monolithic single ideology, but rather one full of citizens eager for peace and civil liberty. While tragic in parts, the Green Revolution was also wholly inspiring. (And, perhaps, was an influence of the later Arab Spring.)
Kaboom! Eyjafjallajokull, a volcano in Iceland, began erupting and sent a cloud of particulate matter into the air that blocked air travel in and out of most of Europe for a week. It was a total nuisance, but it was also great. Crazy Eyjafjallajokull was a kind reminder, rather than a scary one, of the wonder of the natural world. Plus it was just really fun to say the sentence "The airplanes can't fly over the ocean because of the volcano." What a world we live in!
A fitting ten years after 9/11, the plot's mastermind Osama bin Laden was found in his hideout in Pakistan and killed by Navy SEALs. While celebrating a person's death certainly dwells in some murky moral territory, the elimination of the avatar of that terrible day ten years ago was almost assuredly a good thing for the national psyche. Perhaps it means we can move on, in whatever hackneyed way that implies, and one day stop writing listicles about terrible terrorist attacks.
So, that's some good stuff that's happened! Anyone feel better?