If the events of last weekend have taught worldwide cynics anything, it's that fairy tales really do come true. Because in less time than it takes to wake a sleeping beauty, Cinderella married her Prince Charming, the evil dragon was slain, villagers gathered 'round the castle to cheer and the world lived happily ever after.
I came back from a monkish workweek of self-imposed imprisonment (also known as a writers' retreat), and the world was a different place. I'd spent the five days prior to planet Earth's happy ending at the Porches, a two-story farmhouse on the James River in the Virginian countryside, where there are more stink bugs than people and the Internet cheats at a daylong game of hide-and-seek that nobody can win. Night comes early, and the day doesn't waste its time in bed.
The world according to the Porches is about as big as a half tank of gas. Or, in my non-driver's-license-having case, a ride bummed to the grocery store 20 minutes down the main road. But that didn't stop us — a painter, a professor and a fledging screenwriter — from chatting about the royal wedding over mugs of a local coffee so robust, I started calling it "country strong" brew.
The professor, a northern Virginian by way of a village in Haiti who was soldiering through a dissertation on conflict resolution in western Africa, was planning to stay up all night for William and Kate's 4 a.m. curtain call. "I watched Diana," she told me in the kitchen, "so I have to see this." Then we went back to our "cells" — as the professor called our rooms overlooking trees so big they seemed prehistoric.
So enraptured were we with the shots of Kate's tiny waist, William's regal uniform and their impromptu second kiss that I nearly missed my train back home, where the real world would be waiting. When I got home, my DVR was a rabbit hole to even more foolishness, and a day was wasted watching Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters and whoever else could prattle on endlessly about the "modern-day fairy tale." I was swept up in the majesty of a marriage that has absolutely no bearing on my life except to encourage the bad habit of believing in Disney's canned magic.
The backlash was imminent. Why were we wasting precious prime time on royals who don't even rule their own country, much less ours? Then there was news of the massive tornadoes that had wreaked havoc on Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee. With that undiscriminating destruction came the knowledge that the shot in the arm America (or the entire world) got from William and Kate's fairy tale would be fleeting.
Then Barack Obama rode in without need of any shining armor. Just one day after pwning Grand Birther Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents' Association annual dinner, the president announced at the stroke of midnight on Sunday that a real-life villain had been slain. "For over two decades, [Osama] bin Laden has been al-Qaida's leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies," he said. "The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al-Qaida."
Capping off a week of natural disasters, royal-wedding overdoses and reality-star roasting, Obama became the world's champion in the never-ending story line of good versus evil. Despite the president's brief attempt to temper fervor with the line, "[Bin Laden's] death does not mark the end of our effort," his rapt audience was already on its way to celebrate. Crowds shouting "USA!" and "Obama killed Osama!" assembled in front of the White House, America's castle. Identical throngs gathered at the former site of the World Trade Center. It was a "Ding-dong, the witch is dead" moment.
But the truth is that Osama bin Laden, founder of the murderous militant group al-Qaida and mastermind of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, was no Wicked Witch of the West. For the past decade, bin Laden's continued success at evading capture while murdering innocents around the globe has been a terrible reminder of the indiscriminate nature of both violence and justice. His death is the death of an incontrovertibly guilty man and an extremely powerful icon.
But unlike the demise of Adolf Hitler, who took his own life at the end of a war he'd already lost, bin Laden's death comes at a different time in a war that some would say we still don't truly understand. One we're still no closer to winning, despite the cheering in the streets. And if comedies always end in weddings, and tragedies in funerals, then how will this tale end?