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.
On the way home, I drove down Ridge, one of the three streets that stretches from end to end of my hometown. Traffic was unusually slow, until finally I wasn’t moving at all. I got out and walked to the corner. From Oak street to Lake, the curbs were lined with people. Men, women, families. Many held candles. Some cried. Everyone felt lost.
Like me, they just wanted to feel apart. This life can be lonely, and despite what we’ve been led to believe, we’re all a lot more alike than different. On that night we hurt, collectively. I never thought myself to be a patriot. Love of country was something I thought reserved for Bible belters and southern white people. But on that night, I learned that we are all connected, that pain is not exclusive and that it was okay to care, even about people you didn’t know.
In the days that followed, I’d learn more about the world we live in than I ever thought possible. I’d become grateful for the liberties I now understood weren’t just given on other parts of the globe. I begin to comprehend the idea that with great responsibility comes the risk of attack, but true leadership means seeking to understand your attacker so you might avoid a war.
Today, as I pray for those affected eleven years ago, I realize out of the heartbreak and rubble, some of us were made better. For that, I’m grateful.–JasFly