Two candles burning at a memorial vigil
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I reconnected a couple of years ago with an old school friend who I had lost contact with for decades. Now connected on Facebook, I received an alert this morning that today was her birthday and promptly sent her happy bday wishes. Around the same time that I did so, I got to realizing that today's the 17th anniversary of what has come to be known 9/11 and remembered as a day that majorly changed the United States of America, if not the world.
As someone who's now in her fifth decade of life on earth, I've invariably accumulated a lot of memories: many good, some not so great; many of a personal nature, others of which I share with many others, including people I don't personally know; some of which revolve around events which took place far away from where I happened to be when I heard about their having occured, yet had quite the psychological and emotional impact on me.
John Lennon's murder. The Challenger explosion. The Tiananmen Square protests and massacre. The fall of the Berlin Wall. Nelson Mandela's release from prison. Leslie Cheung's suicide. The 2011 Tohoku Earthquake (which also included terrible tsunami and the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi). And, of course, 9/11 -- which, together with what's often referred to in Hong Kong as 6/4 -- probably impacted me the most of all.
Although there were other reasons why I eventually decided to leave the USA (on July 4th, 2003), the role played by 9/11 is not to be under-estimated. I think that many people living in America were scarred forever by the terrible events that occured that day in New York City, Washington, DC., and in the air over Pennsylvania. And, to this day, I'm not sure that many people (including members of the US government) have learnt the right lessons from what happened on September 11th, 2001.
Among other things, the experience and memory of 9/11 has left many of us with some really irrational fears and loathings. A New York resident I know who saw the planes hit the Twin Towers with her own eyes told me about how, on a recent visit to Hong Kong, she asked for a room change after being assigned a hotel room with the number 911. In turn, I told her how I -- who saw the Twin Towers fall in real time, even if "only" on TV -- refuse to live, to the perplexity of various Hong Kong property agents, in an apartment located higher than the 12th floor.
And then there's the fear and distrust, if not outright loathing, that many Americans have come to have of foreigners, especially Muslims. Among the things I will never forget being told in the months after 9/11 was -- and this by an undergraduate at an Ivy League university -- that Americans wanted to study anthropology (which he saw as the study of foreigners) in order to better understand the enemy and defeat them. Around that time was when I decided that maybe it was time for me to leave the USA; whereupon I did, and returned to my home country -- one with a Muslim majority but also a sizeable non-Muslim population with whom they regularly interact.
More than incidentally, the friend I have whose birthday it is today is indeed Malaysian, and Hindu. When we were in secondary school, her family would open their house on Deepavali to the likes of me and her other friends who would happily go there and be fed delicious food by her grandmother. Among our group of friends were a Malay Muslim, whose house we would in turn visit and get fed at when Hari Raya Puasa came along. And those friends would, of course, visit my family home during Chinese New Year to eat (and get ang pow)!
Remembering those times makes it so that this September 11th, I have been having happy, not just unhappy, thoughts today. I really wish 9/11 never happened. And while I don't think the memories of September 11th, 2001, aren't going to go away nor become less upsetting any time soon, I also really do hope and wish that people will be able to let go of their irrational fears and hates, especially towards other people, eventually and sooner rather than later.