357 – December 23
“There is only one of you in the world, just one. And if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost.”—Martha Graham
Last night in my class, we were playing “The Glad Game” and listing all of the things we are grateful for. We talked about maintaining an attitude of gratitude and I said that one of the things that always gets me back to center, being appreciative of what I have instead of what I don’t have is to think about Christopher Reeve. There was a pause as I contemplated his tragic accident, then I mentioned how awful I thought life would be if I was paralyzed.
Jennifer, a young saleswoman, looked at me in surprise, then laughed. She said that wasn’t what she thought I meant. She thought I liked to think about “cute boys!”
This morning I sit with a smile on my face, thinking how far Christopher Reeve had come in our consciousness past the terrible break of his body. In the agonizing days after his accident, he could have given in to death, but his loving wife, Dana, said, “You’re still you!”
That gave him the courage to fight for life. He didn’t just fight for himself, but became a spokesman for all those with spinal injuries, and he continued to work, proving that he was still an artist with talents to share with the world. He succeeded wonderfully, achieving great notices as a director as well as an actor, to the point where a friend of his jokingly exclaimed that his paralysis was a “great career move.” He chronicled his journey back from the brink of death in his book, I’m Still Me.
This body is a machine we inhabit, and sometimes machines break down. But while we live, we still have missions to perform and purposes to fulfill. Life can still be filled with love and wonder and opportunity. We can be “cute” even if we are in a wheelchair or a hospital bed.
Where there is breath, there is life. Where there is life, there is hope. Our future remains to be written. Anything can happen. Everything is possible. Whatever is happening in our lives, we can all write a book called “I’m Still Me.”
“I am rich and wonderful just because I’m me!”
As I reread this story about Christopher Reeve, I did some research into his background and his life on Wikipedia. (Oh, how I love the internet and Wikipedia! When I was growing up, we did our research at the library or in our set of the World Book Encyclopedia.) Reeve was an extraordinarily talented and hard-working actor, exhibiting acting abilities above and beyond most at a very early age.
In 1973, around two thousand students auditioned for twenty places in the freshman class at Juiliard. Reeve’s audition was in front of ten faculty members, including John Houseman, who had just won an Academy Award for “The Paper Chase.” Reeve and Robin Williams were the only students selected for Juiliard’s Advanced Program. They had several classes together in which they were the only students. Williams and Reeve became close friends.
He was very successful in his acting career, and did many motion pictures and plays beside the Superman series. After his tragic accident, his wife convinced him that his life was valuable even if his body was diminished, and he turned his abilities, strength, and character to recovery.
I loved this bit from Wikipedia: “Reeve went through inner anguish in the ICU, particularly when he was alone during the night. His approaching operation to reattach his skull to his spine (June 1995) “was frightening to contemplate. … I already knew that I had only a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the surgery. … Then, at an especially bleak moment, the door flew open and in hurried a squat fellow with a blue scrub hat and a yellow surgical gown and glasses, speaking in a Russian accent.”
The man announced that he was a proctologist and was going to perform a rectal exam on Reeve. It was Robin Williams, reprising his character from the film “Nine Months.” Reeve wrote: “For the first time since the accident, I laughed. My old friend had helped me know that somehow I was going to be okay.”
For the rest of his life, he devoted himself to working on behalf of people with spinal injuries. He created the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation dedicating to improving the quality of the lives of people with disabilities. To date, the Foundation has given more than $65 million for research, and more than $8.5 million in quality-of-life grants. UC Irvine said, “In the years following his injury, Christopher did more to promote research on spinal cord injury and other neurological disorders than any other person before or since.”
He passed away in 2004, leaving a legacy that anyone could be proud of. His wife Dana carried on his work, but which was quickly interrupted when she was diagnosed with lung cancer a scant year later, and died early in 2006.
I wonder if they had a soul contract to come to the Earth to help in this way. Perhaps this was their life’s mission from the beginning. Maybe we can’t know that, but we can honor what they chose to do when faced with a terrible situation. These two took a great tragedy and wrestled a greater good out of it on behalf of others.
What a super man and woman.