Monday, October 11, 2004


By now everyone has heard that Christopher Reeve died Sunday of cardiac arrest. I can admit here, in this somewhat private setting, that though anyone's death is a loss, I greet the news with a small amount of relief. That sounds terrible of me, so I better elaborate. I hope I can put my thoughts accurately into words.

I know very little about Christopher Reeve, but I want to remember him for the example he was to me shortly after the 1995 horse-riding accident left him a quadriplegic.

My admiration wasn't based the idea that he was a hero (I feel that people overuse that word to include everyone who ever has a public battle with much of anything). I was thinking more of the Orthodox perspective of tragedy. We believe that even these things are gifts from God. We believe some people have the gift of tears, the gift of pain. These are mysteries to ponder. In that context, it means that God chose this prominent, young, athletic movie actor to suffer in this way. (As I said, this isn't a point of view I'd try to express outside of Orthodox circles. People would think I was crazy or that my faith was mean, or both.) I can't know why God chose Reeve for this, but when I try to think of any other actor or actress and what they would have done in this circumstance, I feel that he had a grace that transcended the usual truculence and self-centeredness of celebrity. He didn't blame anyone, he didn't want to complain or act as if nothing happened. At least not at first.

As time went on, that seemed to change. He started saying things like "I am going to walk again", which struck me as classic show-biz superciliousness -- out of all the people who have had crippling spinal injuries, he would be the one who would walk again. By virtue of what? His money? His fame? His personal decision not to accept quadriplegia? As if it doesn't take more raw courage to accept the paralysis and just live every day. And he went from being a spokesman for spinal cord injury research to being an activist for stem cell research and a critic of administrations that didn't do enough to further his vision of himself as whole and ambulatory. My problem with his activism wasn't just my personal opposition to stem cell research, but the sense of mourning at losing a hero.

His death will be an occasion now for the Biography channel to run the story of his life, which I would like to see. And activists will invoke his name as if he died from a complete lack of the cells taken from embryos. So the former will call him a hero and the latter will call him a martyr. He's neither to me. He's someone that was given a gift that he may or may not have been able to accept.


Blogger Fr. John McCuen said...

If we were in the "business" of giving grades to blogs, you'd get an "A+" from me for this one, Grace!

During the second presidential debate, I was listening to the radio while on-line in a real-time blog with about 15 other people. I recall vividly the moment when candidate Kerry invoked the name of "Chris Reeve" during his remarks about stem-cell research. Kerry went on to make a comment about the "nature of the human spirit." My comment at that moment was, "The nature of the human spirit is to harvest other human beings for spare parts and repairs." [NOT!]

Over the course of time, we will know people who must do battle with crippling, disabling circumstances in body, mind, or spirit. Your description of Christopher Reeve, and the changing of his (public) response, shows us how difficult this battle can be.


October 12, 2004 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

Many thanks!

I didn't hear what Kerry's answer to that question was, because I was standing watching that part of the debate in an airport. Why do you suppose he gave such a bad answer?

October 13, 2004 at 7:00 PM  

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