I’d slept in because I’d just come off a failed night shoot for Powerade the day before. I was 20, making my own money–good money–doing film and TV production and felt sleeping past 9 a.m. was a luxury I could afford. It was the call from Ma that woke me. “Sugah, did you see what happened?”
This had to be a hoax. At best, some tragic accident. Twice? Both towers? Within an hour, I suddenly understood what terrorism was. Glued to the television, my day-off plans cancelled, I was stuck. Confused. Scared. We’re the number one country in the world. We help everybody. Why would anyone want to do something like that to us?
I knew nothing of foreign policy, and aside from an extended vacay in Europe, I hadn’t left the U.S. My first lesson of the day came as Tom Brokaw announced an organization out of the Middle East was taking responsibility. Sometimes we can get so caught up in our own lives, that we don’t consider how we affect others.
What was I supposed to do? A thousand miles from Ground Zero, nestled within the suburban confines of Evanston, Illinois. I felt helpless. I called my old high school, dazed, and spoke to my former guidance counselor who, like everyone else, had no words. I didn’t know of anyone the might’ve lost their lives, but as night fell, my heart raced awaiting word of survivors, ordinary people willing to do what’s necessary to make it out of extraordinary circumstances.
The President asked everyone to stay indoors, but by 8 p.m. I couldn’t watch anymore. I had to get out. Be around people. I cried in the car listening to Aretha offer a bridge over trouble waters. Troubled.
I don’t remember which DJ informed us that a large number of those still missing were the first responders. Firemen. Police officers. Many lost their lives fighting a pointless mission. Years later–tracing the physics of it–it was man against metal. Tons of it. They never stood a chance, but sometimes courage is ignoring the improbable odds and doing your job anyway. Gratitude. I stopped by the pizzeria I’d gone to my entire life and picked up a large pie. Walking into the firehouse, I visited as a forth grader. I can still remember being too scared to slide down the pole. Years later, I didn’t know what to tell the Captain as I handed him the large sausage and pepperoni. Just…Thank you.