World Trade Center Experience 
by Carmen Roberts 

It was my day off. I was sleeping in, curled up in my antique bed with the window blinds drawn tight. Even though I live just a block and a half from the World Trade Center, I知 not sure I even heard the first plane crash into the tower. The second plane startled me awake, yet it sounded like one of the massive thunderstorms that often roll through the area, echoing and amplifying down the canyon of what were New York痴 tallest buildings. So when nothing else happened, I rolled over, pulled the covers up snuggly, and went back to sleep 末 until. 

Until I heard the most horrific roar imaginable wash over me and yank me out of bed. I quickly jerked open the window blinds, and stared in total confusion out my 11th story window. I looked out at what would have been on a normal day 末 a view of the south WTC tower. But what I saw was nothing 末 a black nothingness that is burned into my memory. The blackness rushed toward me, shaking my building and my mind. The only existing light came from bits of red embers shooting through this animated madness. I struggled to understand. My mind ran through hundreds of different scenarios in a split second. What was this monster engulfing my building, my life? Its roar sounded as if it came from the bowels of the earth 末 I could not find an answer.

Voices 末 I heard voices in my hallway. 展hat happened? I urgently asked. Two of my neighbors told me the World Trade Center had just fallen on our building. 展e致e got to get out! they said frantically. 釘ut you can稚 go out THERE, you can稚 breathe that, I demanded as I pointed out the hallway window into the black smoke and ash. They left. I turned back to my apartment where the lights were flickering and my phone was ringing. I answered, 的知 OK, without even knowing who was calling. I told my friend from Arizona, 的致e got to go. 展e値l talk later. I quickly hung up, and zoomed around my apartment with determination. 敵otta get my things together and get out, I thought. I started chanting, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo; threw on some jeans, a T-shirt and my running shoes. I grabbed a hat to cover my eyes and kerchief to cover my face. I gently, but quickly nudged my 14-year-old cat, Fuji, into his carrying case. While he cried, I continued. I threw a bottle of water and some cat food into my big bag, tossed in a radio to hear emergency information, flipped in my cell phone and charger, and then one final thing my Gohonzon. 

When Fuji and I got to the bottom of the stairs, we came face to face with an ash-covered fireman, directing us out of the building. 敵o south, he said. 敵o quickly. I was still chanting, but silently now, trying to summon more courage than I have ever needed in my 26 years of practice. 

I, and about 50 others, walked quickly down West Side Highway. All around us was a smoky-white ash. It covered everything: police officers, fire engines, the street. We hurried down the road toward Battery Park at the end of our street, and kicking ash dust high into the air.

Suddenly another loud noise! Everyone looked back toward the WTC for the reason. Some people panicked and ducted into any enclave they could find, but nothing happened. A minute later, everyone was back on the street. A minute after that another horrific noise swept over us. We looked back and this time we saw the reason. A huge debris cloud was growing higher and higher above our heads. This time the cloud was light brown. It was spilling over and rolling down the street in a strange, slow motion movement. But it was anything but slow. It was barreling toward us. 

Some behind me yelled, 迭un! 典he other tower just collapsed! Others screamed, and everyone ran. No time to think just run. I hurried as fast as I could, holding tight to my 16-pound cat in his carrier and my bag. I reached the park, but could not run another step. I crawled over the green wooden benches that line the park perimeter and just stood there, gasping for breath. From my right I heard someone say, 的n here! I looked and a man and woman were standing inside a small men痴 room.

We closed the windows, shut the door and waited. Everything outside went ashen white. A few minutes later two men stumbled in, white from head to toe; coughing and spitting. Then another man joined us. Each washed the ash from his mouth in the men痴 room sink; one relieved himself at a urinal on the wall, and we all listened to my portable radio to the reports of the madness outside. 

When the debris cloud had settled enough, we left for the Staten Island Ferry. I just wanted to get to a safe place, and it seemed the island across the way was the best bet.

Inside the ferry terminal I tried to call my mother in Florida. No luck. I tried my office at Bloomberg Television in New York. No luck. The towers destruction had damaged huge amounts of telephone equipment housed beneath the towers. My next attempt was to my brother in Dallas. Finally, success! 的t痴 me, sis. I知 OK. From his end, I heard a huge cry of relief. He had been watching the event on TV, knowing I lived in the shadow of the towers. 

Once on Staten Island I had no idea where to go, what to do. 展ell, I thought, 的f I知 here in the middle of this shocking event, I should do something, after all I am a reporter. So I started talking to anyone I could. 展here were you when the attack happened? 展hat did you see? I asked person after person.

A middle-aged woman from Hackensack, New Jersey (Marika) told me she worked on the 20th floor of the first tower that was hit. She recounted her terrifying experience to me, as she looked out from her ash-covered long brown hair. It took her 20 minutes to get to the lobby, and once there the second plane hit the other tower. 摘veryone dove to the floor, she said. She looked down at her bare dirty feet and continued. 的 had to climb over bodies to get out, and then we ran. 

I talked to a young woman who lives in a building just south of me. She was unable to reach her sister at work in New York. The call would not go through. Instead she had to call her parents in Istanbul, Turkey and have them call her. She like I was homeless and confused.

I reported those and other stories to my company痴 radio station, WBBR, Bloomberg 1130, and hoped their families were listening and would learn their loved ones were alright.

Afterwards, I sat on a hill at the Staten Island courthouse with my terrified cat and watched my neighborhood burn. I listened to the radio and connected all the dots: A terrorist attack. Both towers decimated. People jumping from the flames to their death. One couple even holding hands as they leapt. The Pentagon hit. Another plane crash in Pennsylvania. And on, and on.

I sat there watching the massive tower of smoke tilt rise from downtown Manhattan and tilt southeast toward Brooklyn. I thought about the thousands of people I knew could be dead, and I tried to make sense of this incomprehensibly illogical and evil act. Thinking about it numbed me. As a Buddhist, I believe as the original Buddha Nichiren Daishonin taught, that all the treasures of the Universe are not worth as much as a single human life. I also believe the president of our Buddhist lay organization, Daisaku Ikeda, said. That is, if we are to solve the serious problems confronting humankind, we must first acknowledge the inherent dignity of human life.

Deep sorrow filled my soul.  I chanted silently for the thousands of victims. I grew angry with the perpetrators. How could someone be so evil to do such a thing? How could someone be so misguided to believe this was necessary? 

As a Buddhist I know human beings have the potential for great good or great evil. I just never imagined I would personally experience the worst evil since the holocaust. I thought I would go through life with the normal pains and sorrows, but not this. 

I left Staten Island late that day, after finally realizing I could not go home. All civilian traffic was blocked in and out of the city, including Staten Island, so I walked across the long Bayonne Bridge to New Jersey. There I caught a bus, a train, and another bus back to Manhattan where a friend took me and Fuji in for the night.

I have always received great benefits from practicing Buddhism, but now realize with greater certainty what great fortune I have developed. I知 alive. I still a job, and one day I will have my apartment back, although probably not for at least another month. Plus, unlike many of the companies I have worked for in my past, I now work for a company that is so wonderful it paid for my hotel for two weeks after the attack. Now it is paying for a temporary apartment until I can return home. The owner of my company, Mike Bloomberg, responded to my thank you by saying, 鉄orry we had to. Glad we could.

As I walk around New York, I pause and look at the thousands of missing persons fliers posted on any available spot. At this time (Sept. 29), more than 5,600 people from the World Trade Center are missing; more than 300 are confirmed dead. In nearby Union Square an impromptu memorial erupted, complete with flowers, candles, and hundreds of people sharing their prayers every day. Each photo I see of a missing person, I think, 展hat was he or she like? 的 would have like to have know him, or 鉄he looks like such a wonderful person.

Those people are gone, but I am still here. So I have a responsibility to live a full and meaningful life. The Daishonin said, 的f one considers the power of the Lotus Sutra, he will find perpetual youth and eternal life before his eyes. (MW Vol 1, pg 120.) This does not mean we will live forever. To the contrary, we are not immortal, so it is important we make every day count. 

September 11th changed everything: the world and my life. So, I am chanting to summon up the Buddha wisdom from my life to deal with all this. I want to turn this poison into medicine (hendoku iyaku). 

As a Buddhist, I know nothing is an accident. There痴 a cause to everything. This is true for the macrocosm of these terrorist events, as well as my individual life. 

  • I believe we must use this tragedy to unify the world. 
  • We must work for justice for the thousands of victims, but not seek retribution. Those responsible must be held accountable, but punishing innocent civilians will not bring justice to the innocent victims. 
  • We must stamp out the evil of terrorism with education. After all, these terrorists were taught to hate. 
  • For myself, I must use this experience to speak out loudly and sincerely for peace. 
  • I must never ignore an opportunity to tell someone about this great practice. 
  • I must live my life in a meaningful and full way, so when I die, I do so with no regrets.
The terrorist attack was literally a wake up call for me, rattling me out of my sleep and reawakening me to my Buddhist mission. And I hope it will be a wake up call for the world as well.