Chapter 36 Summary

2001

The day after Gary’s faith healing, Deborah felt a good deal better. The hives on her face were not quite so bad, but they had not disappeared completely. Her eyes were still uncomfortably swollen. She decided that she should see her doctor, so she set off to drive back to Baltimore.

Meanwhile, Rebecca stayed in Clover. She did not fully understand what she had witnessed the day before, and she wanted to talk to Gary about it. She found him at home changing a light bulb. When she walked in, she recited the words from a hymn he had sung during his spontaneous faith healing. When she confessed that she could not get the song out of her head, he laughed and said, “I know you don’t like to think about it, but that’s the Lord telling you something.”

Gary retrieved a pretty blue Bible and asked Rebecca to read some passages he had marked. She had never before read aloud from the Bible, but she did as he asked, reading a few lines about faith as the path to eternal life. The passage went on to describe the beauty of heavenly creatures and they reminded Rebecca of how awestruck Deborah had been at the sight of Henrietta’s beautiful cells.

Rebecca realized then that to Gary, Deborah, and the rest of the Lackses, Henrietta Lacks was quite literally still alive. Her cells had survived in culture because she had been “chosen” as “an angel.” Henrietta’s cancer cells were immortal not because of the quirks of medical science, but because of a conscious choice of God’s. Rebecca explains:

If you believe the Bible is the literal truth, the immortality of Henrietta’s cells makes perfect sense. Of course they were growing and surviving decades after her death, of course they floated through the air, and of course they’d led to cures for diseases…Angels are like that.

This explanation for Henrietta’s immortality was “more concrete” to the Lackses than the scientific explanation regarding HPV and DNA and telomeres.

Gary smiled at the look of amazement on Rebecca’s face, and then warned her that she might soon convert to Christianity. She disagreed, fervently, making the two of them laugh together. He read her one more sentence from the Bible: “Why do you who are here find it impossible to believe that God raises the dead?” Then he pressed the Bible into her hands to keep.