Monday, October 11, 2004

The Anguish of Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve's death today from heart failure is painful to us, even though we instinctively knew his body was not healthy. Doctors reported that he outlived by two years the life expectancy of a man with his traumatic injury.

His death is painful to us largely due to Mr. Reeve's obvious and public anguish at his situation. We felt his pain. He was a fit, handsome, wealthy man when tragedy befell him in the form of a balking Chestnut thoroughbred on May 27, 1995. Before the accident, he held all life had to offer....except God. He had a beautiful wife, three loving children, a successful career and an Ivy League-educated intellect. And he was an avowed atheist.

Mr. Reeve broke his neck, severing his spinal cord, and he became a quadriplegic. He had no bodily sensation or control below his neck. He considered suicide, until his wife convinced him that he was more than merely a physical body. He found strength and motivation to live in hope....hope that he would once again walk, feel, breath independently and regain his former life. He found hope, but he didn't find solace or peace.

With steely determination, he fought the medical establishment, he fought the political system, he fought conventional wisdom. He became a modern-day hero for his victories in fundraising for medical research to aid spinal cord victims. He became a tireless and effective advocate for the disabled. He became a role model of courage for all who face challenges.

But he never became content. He also fought God. "Even though I don't personally believe in the Lord, I try to behave as though He was watching," he told an interviewer in 1996.

He told Larry King in May 1998, "But I think that---while I don't believe in God, per se---I believe in spirituality....there is a higher power, there is more than just us, there is an inner strength, there is something, y'know, that comes from---I don't know where exacty it comes from, but it's---it really is the best that humans can be."

For the first time in his life, he began to sporadically attend a church two years ago. He said in an October 2004 Reader's Digest story," I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us. It may be God. I don't know. But I think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do."

Christopher Reeve had begun his journey of faith. Of course, only God knows if Mr. Reeve reached the destination of his journey.

What we know is that Christopher Reeve was in anguish, not just because his body was broken, but also because he never seemed at peace. We hurt for him because we admired him, and we sensed his anguish. His was a restless, fighting, angry drive to find wholeness, and he didn't appear to find it. He never seemed to grasp that, as his wife expressed, he was more than a physical body. He also had a soul.

As the Apostle Paul said from a jail cell," ... for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances....I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." -- Philippians 4:11-13

God bless Christopher Reeve, and everyone else who has not yet absorbed the meaning of Paul's words.

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