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A reader writes … By Justin Rutherford

September 14, 2001

I woke that morning to the sound of a telephone ring. Being fairly early in the morning and not having planned to be up until much later, I was quite upset.

The voice on the other end of the line, one I could recognize but not fully identify, told me there was a great disaster happening in New York, one she could not even believe herself.

At first I didn't believe her, for she had often called early to wake me up for no reason whatsoever. However, after I pushed the power button on the remote, I could hear the news anchor describing a great tragedy before the picture tube of the television even had time to warm up. This was how I began the day of Sept. 11, 2001, a date that will be burned into the minds of Americans forever.

Getting up and going into the living room to watch the cable news networks, I still couldn't quite understand what had happened. Ominous words like "collapsed," "tragedy," "explosion," and "horror" were still looming in my mind. Only then, after about five minutes and a jolt of cold water to my face, was I able to realize the full terror of the event.


Even having occurred a couple hours before I awoke, the faces and evidence were still there. Some great tragedy had been perpetrated into American life.

It seemed completely surreal, almost to the point I thought I was still dreaming. But as the reports kept coming in and the coffee started to clear my mind, the reality was breathtaking. Literally. I found it hard to breathe, hard to move, hard to watch as my fellow citizens of this great country perished in those crashes and the ensuing explosions and fires.

I found myself ashamed to be an American. But only for a second. Then I saw people helping each other, people who needed help themselves asking what they could do for others. Chills ran down my spine as video of a firefighter, covered in soot and ash already, was putting his coat back on as he was going back to the second building after the first had fallen to the earth. It was not more than 10 minutes after that the second building came down.

To see how people, obviously suffering from severe smoke inhalation, gave up their water bottles to complete strangers who had cuts and gashes on their arms and legs …. And how a policeman, face covered to the point of being unrecognizable, carried two little girls into a small shop to get them out of the smoke.

I could see the pride of the United States manifesting itself in front of me. Not being able to take my eyes off the television, rage began to creep into my mind. I told myself the citizens of the United States of America are better than the people who did this, that the people who did this are cowardly and godless and jealous, but that would not bring back the people lost in this heinous act of violence.

No matter what could be done, I told myself, it would not be bad enough. The United States could eliminate every single member of the group who did this, but somehow it would still not be enough.

I started to think that maybe the United States should initiate the attacks on people considered a threat, but then I realized that we would be no better than the people who initiated this attack. They call themselves people of God and religion, but that is just a cheap excuse for the terror brought upon the world by their acts of cowardice.

My attention turned back to being an American, to being proud of the nation we live in and to being proud of the leaders of this country. This especially rang true when the members of the Senate and House of Representatives joined together in unity to sing "God Bless America" on the steps of the Capitol building.

And I found myself brought to tears when our president made it clear we will treat the people who committed this act and the people who harbor them one and the same.

Being from Brawley, I talked to my mother many times, always discussing what a tragedy it was and is. I was moved by the way Peter Jennings broke up during his late-night report when he started talking about his children and how important family is to everyone in this country.

I think I finally realized what it meant to feel lucky to have a family. It was cloudy and cool here in Corona, the first time a cloud had been in the sky for quite some time. The temperature never dared go above 80, and a slight breeze coursed through my apartment. It was as if the heavens knew that sunny and warm would be inappropriate for this day, a day not soon forgotten.

JUSTIN RUTHERFORD, 21, is a Brawley resident attending Cal Poly Pomona and living in Corona.

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