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A reader writes … By Jim Shinn

October 01, 2001

It was completely dark. Under normal circumstances he would have been terrified. Things were not normal. He was not the same person he was six days ago. He was lying on the floor of a World Trade Center office in the total darkness with a sense of peace. His panic had been transformed into peace. He even remembered when he was a child and how he always needed a night light to sleep. Darkness used to be his enemy. It no longer bothered him. He had other light.

He reflected on the day it began. He was at his computer working as an securities analyst for a large corporation. He loved his work. All day long he would listen to his Walkman, reading reports off the screen and e-mailing clients all over the world. He was good at his job, maybe too good. He would get lost in his work and he had even missed or been late for important family events because of his love affair with his computer screen.

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Between the music and his intense focus on his work, when the building shook from the first plane attack, he ignored it. He figured it was some seismic sensation and he was in the "zone" and couldn't be bothered. It wasn't until all power went off and he both felt the major movements and heard a long sustained roar and rumble when he knew something was terribly wrong.

His office, like many others, had no windows, so as to minimize distraction from the mission of making money for clients. He had never cared for the fact that his strong metal door opened out rather than in. In the dark, when he tried to open the door, under his feet, he could feel concrete rubble that had been thrown under the crack between the door bottom and the floor. The total blackness of his circumstances and the trapped sensation immediately catapulted him into a state of terror.

Fifteen minutes of yelling gave vent to his fear but proved futile. The analytical lobe of his brain finally kicked in and he went to his desk to find the flashlight.

In a brief flashback, he was glad he had been in the Boys Scouts as a child. It had helped him become organized when he was younger. His scoutmaster had been a father figure, since his own father was gone most of the time, working on the road. Mr. Johnson had said repeatedly, "Be prepared!" His desk reflected the influence. Inside it were several packs of snack crackers, some bottled water, batteries for his Walkman, his little flashlight and even a palm-sized Bible he had never opened. Some guy had given it to him on his way to work one morning. He realized he had few resources and maybe not much more time. He wore out the Walkman batteries by the second day, listening to the radio reports of the terrorist attack.

He knew it would be days before he, and others, he suspected, would be dug out. Knowing his time was limited, he decided not to panic but be prepared. He planned on how he would ration his little food and water. He could not avoid reflecting on his life, and especially his wife and two children. He would at times weep in the darkness. Part of it was the grief of anticipation, knowing he may never see them again. Also were the pangs of regret and the knowledge of a limited time misused. He had missed some of the kids' school and sporting events. Every Sunday he had "needed his rest" and not gone to church with his family and instead paid homage to his own God, the NFL or whatever sport was in season.

It was after one of these regretful reviews he picked up the little Bible and began to read.

In the beginning was a verse written in more than 20 different languages. It was John 3:16. After he read it, he couldn't get it out of his head. It was like God graffiti, spray-painted on the wall of his heart, "For he so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." He knew flashlight time was limited, so he used the index in the front part titled "where to find help." He read the verses related to "death," "disaster threatens," "prayer," "pride," "fear," "faith" and finally "sin."

Each word seemed to speak to his need. He now understood his wife's devotion to Bible study and making sure the kids were in Sunday school. He had finished reading a day ago, when the last batteries went out. At that time he prayed, confessed as much sin as he could remember, asked Jesus Christ to save him and in moments while the room was still consumed in darkness, he felt the light of life in his soul.

He laid on the floor quietly, peacefully, holding the little book, knowing he would see his family again. If not after a miraculous rescue, then for eternity in heaven.

Jim Shinn is an El Centro resident and counselor at De Anza Junior High.

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