The Washington Post

Only 54?

Was I the only one who was surprised to learn that Osama bin Laden was only 54 years old when he was taken down by the U.S. military Sunday?

Amid all the emotions, speculations, thoughts and prayers flying around Monday, that’s the thing that kept sticking in my head. This detestable beast of a man who had cast such a huge, dark shadow over American life for the past decade, was just 54.

Same age as my big brother.

Somehow I’d always imagined him much older. Was it his gaunt appearance and the long graying beard? Or my gut instinct that to have had that much impact, to cause that much damage and incite so much fear, a man would have to have been older than, say, Katie Couric or Matt Lauer, both of whom, it turns out, were born the same year as bin Laden: 1957?

I know: Adolf Hitler was just 56 when he killed himself. That’s good evidence that you can wield plenty of horror by your mid-50s. But that bit of history didn’t inform my sentiments about bin Laden.

On Twitter, a number of tweets have made vague reference to bin Laden’s age, with some people (mostly young people, judging from their profile pictures) noting that the man would have died soon anyway, given his advanced age. Here’s an example:

@katlaine Kat Dixon Bin Laden's age at death makes his death unremarkable. Another old person dies.

Either way, it’s hard to fathom that, like my brother, bin Laden was born just three years before I was. Somehow, the recognition that he was so squarely of my own generation is unsettling. Thinking he was an old man allowed for some extra distance between his evil self and my life.

One thing’s for sure: I’m not the only one who’s relieved to know he won’t see 55.



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