Salvation's price: A terrorism fable


To the editor:

There was once a very old woman who was very small and bent over. Because she had always been so tiny, her name “Sadie” became “Sadeleh,” and remained that way.

She often frowned and sighed and mumbled to herself because she was ill and very lonely.

Sadeleh lifted her soup spoon and sipped her warm vegetable soup. Then she broke off a piece of day-old challah and started spreading a thick layer of butter on it.

She smiled softly as she ate the soft, yellow bread. But the smile faded as she watched the small television set in the corner of the dining room.

She squinted and frowned at the scene of a huge building surrounded by thick clouds of smoke and fire.

She felt the pain in her chest for which the clinic doctor had given her some pills. But fumbling in her apron pocket, couldn’t find them.

She saw images of beautiful young people, smiling faces, all kinds of people — young moms and dads holding happy children. Friendly looking young men sitting in front of computers. Older, serious businessmen. Beautiful brides.

Notations described each person — their names, locations in the building, and the words: “If you’ve seen my brother, please call me at ...”

There were even little babies holding teddy bears. And at the bottom of the picture were the words, “Where are you, Daddy?”

Sadeleh couldn’t take her eyes off the screen. She felt hypnotized, and tried to raise her hand to hide the scene.

Then the pain came again — her chest, her arms, her head — and she cried out, “Oh, God! Take me instead! I’m so old! I’m so sick! Nobody needs me anymore! Save those young people. Please, God! Take me instead.”

At the scene of terror — the diggings — the desperate search for survivors went on. Few live survivors were being found. Hours went by. Days went by. More and more pictures of the missing were being shown.

People wandered the streets numb, stricken, disbelieving. But on the fifth day, an exhausted volunteer named Sam thought he heard a faint sound, and started frantically picking away at the rubble.

He saw a small hand, and heard another sound.

Crying out frantically to other workers, he kept digging until he uncovered what appeared to be the body of a young woman whose legs were caught between pieces of debris. But she was trying to move her arm toward him, trying to say something.

Crowds of workers scrambled to the scene, and great care was taken to remove the young woman. She was covered carefully, and gently carried on a stretcher to a nearby ambulance.

Television, newspapers, people on the street — everyone cheered and cried and exclaimed over the miracle. The young woman’s family shook their heads in disbelief — overcome with happiness, but shaken with the enormity of how and why she had survived when so many others perished.

In the local paper in a corner of the Bronx, a small article appeared on the obituary page announcing the death of a very old, unknown, tiny woman named Sadie. It was said that the super who had found her body told a neighbor, “You know, it seemed strange. But I think she had a smile on her face.”


— Originally published Oct. 4, 2001

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Zelda Levitan,