In those days they called my brother retarded. Today he is considered someone with an intellectual disability. In our family, and to everyone who knows Doug, he is “special.”
Doug was born with the kiss of God upon his forehead. He has a birthmark, slightly faded now and covered by his thick mop of hair which he wears too long.
Do I sound judgemental? I’m his older sister by fourteen months, and I’ve earned the right to be critical when it comes to my younger brother’s style. Let’s just say looking at Doug is like reliving 1974 over and over again.
I’ll get to the reason you are here.
A miracle happened in a small synagogue in a middle class suburban neighborhood of Baltimore Maryland in 1968. It happened to my brother Doug, or Doug was the angel who made the miracle happen. To this day we can argue both sides of the issue.
It was the morning prayer service with it’s very structured liturgy and familiar melodies. We Jews are not at all loosey-goosey when it comes to prayer. Jewish people all over the world, recite the same prayers morning, afternoon and evening, holidays and the Sabbath. You can travel to Timbuktu, find a Jew and together recite the same Hebrew words that make up the prayer service.
Sure, there are slight differences between a more observant Jew and one who subscribes to a different Jewish denomination. But basically…same stuff…and it’s all in hebrew.
Doug had a problem. It’s not easy to pray in a foreign language. Doug had enough trouble speaking English. His verbal skills were always quite poor. Yet, with the help of a determined teacher and building blocks with the hebrew alphabet printed on the sides, Doug learned his “aleph bets” the ABC’s of the hebrew language.
On this one fine day, Doug followed an irresistible urge to pray out loud. He told me later he heard God whisper in his ear “join the others.” So he did.
He prayed in a way that was pure instinct. With a great intake of air, lungs expanded, and vocal chords rippling with sound, Doug began reciting the aleph bet…one…letter…at…a…time.
The others were startled out of their prayerful rhythm. Mouths hung open. People stared at the young boy who stood rocking back and forth with eyes shut tight. His hands clutched an unopened prayer book which he held at chest level. Escaping from his parted lips was the discordant yet heavenly sound of an alphabet being recited with religious fervor.
No one dared disturb him. One by one the people in the chapel returned to their own prayers which were oddly enough in complete harmony with Doug’s.
When the last amen was uttered, Doug too, stopped his prayers. He was drenched in perspiration and his bangs were swept aside from his forehead where his birthmark shone an unearthly glow.
The Rabbi approached my little brother and asked him to describe what came over him.
“I am praying Rabbi. God told me to. We have a deal. I send God the letters and God forms the words of my prayers.”
In that sacred space, on that one fine day, in a suburb of Baltimore Maryland, a miracle happened to my brother Doug, or Doug was the angel who made a miracle happen.