The phone rings. I wait for the answering machine to get it, but for some reason, it’s not picking up. I exhale, annoyed because I know the call is either going to be for my wife, Susan (she’s the only one who receives calls on the home line, and she left to take Alyce to school ten minutes ago), or it’s the latest of 300 attempts to sell me something I have absolutely no interest in.
“Hello,” I say, an edge in my voice.
“Daddy, it’s me.” It’s Alyce, my 12-year-old daughter. “Mommy was just in a car accident.”
My heart stops and then begins pounding.
“Are you all right?”
A deep sob. “I don’t know … I don’t think so. Come quick.”
I sprint a few blocks to what looks like a shoot for a disaster movie. Fire engines, police cars, and ambulances are randomly parked in the street; helicopters circle. A city bus is on the wrong side of the road. In front of it are the smashed remains of Susan’s car.
Susan is pinned under the dashboard. There is no front windshield—no front end, for that matter. Alyce is standing on the corner crying, covered in tiny shards of glass but uninjured. Inconceivable.
Susan isn’t so lucky. But she is alive. It turns out she has broken nearly every bone in her body, and she will spend almost three months in the hospital.
More than two years later, Susan and I were at an event at our synagogue celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Our temple’s cantor and musical director, Danny, rushed up to us. He said excitedly, “There’s a woman here tonight from one of the church choirs who you have to meet!” He returned with an African American woman with a bright, glowing smile. She told us she lived in the apartment building by where the wreck had happened. That morning, she had rushed to the street, still in her bathrobe, and seen Alyce standing by the side of the wrecked car, crying. She approached her, asking, “Is that your mom in there?” Alyce nodded, and the woman said, “Let’s pray together.”
Sweet, innocent Alyce looked at this woman wearing a cross around her neck and said, “OK, but you should know I’m Jewish.” The woman smiled. She took Alyce’s hand, held it to her chest, and said, “That’s OK. In here we’re all the same.”
Alyce told her that she needed to call me, but her backpack with her phone was trapped inside the crushed vehicle. So the woman lent Alyce her phone.
After the accident, she said, she had continued to pray for our family.
We had our picture taken together, and as were saying goodbye, she hugged us all warmly. We realized we had never been formally introduced, so she said to me, “I’m sorry, I never got your name.” I told her it was Doug, and she paused, as if maybe she hadn’t heard me. I repeated, “Doug, like Douglas.”
She looked at us and said, “Wait, your name is Susan?” Susan nodded. “And your name is Douglas?”
The woman put her hand over her heart. “Oh my goodness,” she said. “My name is Susan Douglas.”
For more on this harrowing story, get a copy of Douglas Segal’s book, Struck.