Triumph of good over evil

Triumph of good over evil

Lance Yau, 16, remembers the 2001 attacks on New York, not for the terrorism, but for the strength of the human spirit


The twin towers may have fallen, but the spirit of the American people did not, Lance says.
The twin towers may have fallen, but the spirit of the American people did not, Lance says.
It was a warm and bright September morning. The new academic term had started, and students fresh from the summer holidays were still trying to get back into the swing of things on the third day of school. Life in the vibrant city of New York was fast-paced as usual, not unlike in Hong Kong. I ambled to P.S. 129, my local primary school. This was 10 years ago.

In a sudden shattering of the peace, New York City was attacked, and New Yorkers were stunned. The United States was targeted, and Americans were woken up to a new and radically different global landscape.

Yet I do not remember the September 11, 2001, attacks in this way. I do not see that fateful day as a crucial point in our recent history.

I only recall sitting in my classroom of second-graders at the start of the day, listening as the principal made an announcement that I did not comprehend fully, understanding only that school would end earlier that day. Words such as "attacked" and "terrorist act" flew over my head. I saw the shock register on the face of my teacher, Ms Williams, as fellow teachers came over to check if they had heard the principal correctly. The rest of the class was dead silent.

As school ended early, I went to a childminder's home. With no homework to do, I eagerly switched on the television, expecting my daily dose of afternoon cartoons.

However, instead of SpongeBob SquarePants, a news programme was on air. I began to take in the ominous images: footage of the World Trade Centre collapsing, repeated over and over again without any accompanying sound or commentary. One moment, there were two steel towers, wounded but standing. The next moment, only one remained.

It was like a sick trick, as if a magician had grabbed one of the towers and stuffed it into a top hat.

At the bottom of the screen, the same sentence moved from right to left: "World Trade Centre attacked and destroyed."

It was one of the worst acts of malice in the immediate memory of the world. For me, there was only numbness. At six years old, one could barely comprehend the death of a close one, let alone understand the deaths of almost 3,000 lives, taken in an act of terrorism. Devoted religious men killing themselves in order to take more lives? It was incomprehensible.

What struck me most in the days that followed was not the terrorism, but the outpouring of care and aid from the rest of the world. And within the country, Americans actually put aside their differences, from ideology to politics (something rarely seen today), to help.

Young as I was, I concluded that if al-Qaeda had wanted to instil terror in the hearts of New Yorkers, they had failed utterly. The human capacity to do good could be just as powerful as the capacity to do evil. It was a lesson I grew up with, ingrained in my mind since then.

Ten years on, New York City lives on bravely. Out of the ashes of Ground Zero, a taller, grander tower called One World Trade Centre will be completed in three years, a reminder of the now seemingly distant memories.

Although I have moved to Hong Kong to pursue my studies and am no longer the small second-grader watching the turn of events in numb awe, that monumental Tuesday morning remains etched in my mind.


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