March 28, 2002
Men in Black
The 74th Annual Academy Awards program will be remembered, at least by me, for women's gowns with faux see-through gauze fronts and men's suit jackets down to the knees.
Sunday night. For my town, Malibu, Oscar night is a kind of Yom Kippur. Roads are deserted; the local restaurants close early. The sky sparkles with possibility, in which any kind of magic or healing might occur.
It was 9 p.m. I was at home with my parents, having already cried over Sidney Poitier's tribute and drooled over Denzel Washington. Now I was deep into analysis of Gwyneth Paltrow's sheer frontage when the doorbell rang.
There in my darkened doorway were two men in black mid-length coats with long, curly beards and black hats; a younger and an older man, with eyes burning so clear and bright that they seemed to be reading from an inner script. There was about their smiling countenances such a sense of purpose, that the word "messenger" sprang to mind. They knew and I knew. They had come for me.
If you read enough Torah, it can come easily to life: a blending of the "then" and the "now," the foretold and the foregone. The slightest stimulus revives the age of prophecy to our own time. Seeing these two men in black, I pictured myself alongside the biblical Abraham as he sat in his tent, healing from his circumcision, awaiting word from the three angels.
Abraham wanted an answer. So do I. Angels always come in human form. Here they were. For a second, I expected these two messengers would present me with a ticket to my destiny. If so, I was relieved to be wearing my wig, ready to go.
"Malkah!" I was shaken from my reverie by the friendly voice of Rabbi Chaim Cunin of our local Malibu Chabad, addressing me by my Hebrew first name. He waves to me on my daily walks as he drives his SUV and talks on his cell phone.
"My father was in the neighborhood and wants to give you a prayer." Sure enough, the older man was Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad Lubavitch.
"It's the Rebbe's birthday!" the elder Cunin booms out. "You need a blessing."
I certainly do.
Now let us talk about the power of suggestion: How much do you want something, and to what length will you go to get it?
As a person with lung cancer, I know there is only so much that medicine can do. After that, prayer must step in.
The other day, I began a new form of drug, an experimental clinical trial. The drug is so new it only has a number, not a name. It has the potential to work a miracle. That miracle is my prayer.
I am not the only one who is praying. Each time I see my oncologist, he looks at me for answers. His eyes get focused and he studies me for responses. The expert and the novice, neither of us know.
Prayer is possibility; it is the statement: "I don't know all." Prayer asks, take me beyond my current knowledge to do good work.
Even the traditional kinds of prayer seek the extraordinary, the new.
I invited the rabbis into the living room where my parents were busy looking for Russell Crowe.
The Cunins presented us with a box of shmura matzah.
The elder Cunin asked my full Hebrew name.
"Malkah bas Henya," I said.
Then, while the TV screen showed Halle Berry's sheer gown embroidered with silk flowers, the Chabad rabbi chanted at great decibel, for God and all of Malibu to hear, the traditional prayer for a full and speedy recovery.
I am getting answers to questions I have not asked.