University City

What lesson do you want to learn from the death of a terrorist?

It's been almost two weeks since the Navy SEALs ended Osama bin Laden's career. But stories about the world's most notorious terrorist keep appearing, like snakes crawling out as the weather warms up.

It shows bin Laden's talent for taking our imaginations hostage. He left us with an awful lot of healing still to do, and talking it through is part of the process.

A few weeks ago, while taking our dog Homer for a walk in the woods, we stumbled across Osama bin Laden on the banks of Toby Creek. I was terrified we'd be gunned down on the spot.

Bin Laden's face - beard, turban and sneer - was printed in the middle of a bull's-eye tacked up on a sweet gum tree.

I wasn't worried about an al-Qaeda ambush, it was those eager sharpshooters out to avenge 9-11 who might mistake Homer for a camel and shoot him.

Or shoot me - I've got no turban and only one wife, but, hey, I do have a beard.

Something else bothered me, too. The kids who hung up the bin Laden bull's-eye probably didn't give it much thought.

To them, the man in the turban was just a target to shoot at, downloaded and printed after a perfunctory Google search for "bad guy world's worst."

I just worry that the "bad guy" status might cancerously expand to apply to everyone in a turban, and then to all those who wear different clothes, speak a different tongue or follow a different creed.

That's the same groupthink the terrorists use. When bin Laden planned the attacks of 9-11, his target was all Americans, "bad guys" every last one of us. By his twisted logic, Americans deserved collective punishment - young and old, rich and poor, of every culture, skin color, nation, and religion (including Muslims).

Our American identity puts the lie to this kind of simplistic if seductive nonsense. We're a quilt of different peoples who together form a single nation. Our quilt is stitched together by the belief that each of us, no matter how different, is created equal and entitled to the same fundamental human rights.

These values are doubly important in a cosmopolitan community like Charlotte's University City, home to people from all over the world.

The death of bin Laden has not prompted raucous public celebrations here.

Donna Beech's story captures feelings I'm hearing from many neighbors and friends.

Beech works as a physician's assistant at University Family Physicians. In 2001, Beech had just moved to Charlotte from New York. In early September, she decided to take a quick trip north for a visit. On the morning of Sept. 11 she went into Manhattan to have coffee with friends. She can never forget the chaos and confusion, the clouds of smoke, people running in panic, and the long difficult journey back to Long Island.

Along with the flood of memories, Beech says quietly, the news of bin Laden's end brings at least some measure of relief and peace - though she is aware a threat remains.

Bin Laden's execution cannot bring back our loved ones or the innocents lost, or restore our shattered sense of safety. Healing remains an ongoing and daily struggle, for all of us.

But instead of searching for the next bad guy to replace bin Laden at the top of our list, can we turn in a new direction by rejecting the hatred he espoused?

In a diverse community like University City, we are blessed with countless opportunities to build bridges of understanding between neighbors, no matter how different we may be. This gives us a much more important, hopeful and healing target to shoot for.