What We Can Learn from Christopher Reeve

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Christopher Reeve, the actor who entertained us all these years on the screen as Superman, has now become a super teacher to all of us in real life.   He fell off a horse as a superbly fit and agile man and  regained consciousness as a paralyzed man from the neck down.  The  result was total paralysis, he couldn't even breathe on his own.  A machine had to breathe for him.  
Not spending any time in commiserating what he had lost, he poured himself over the task of rebuilding his skills he had acquired since infancy.  When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.  Whatever Reeve has undertaken to learn or do in his life, he has developed it to the highest point of his ability.  He is not going to cut any corners or sell himself short in the undertaking.

 In a recent interview with Barbara Walters on 20-20, Reeve said, "Let's look at the two choices I have.  One is to vegetate and look out of my window and the other is to move forward.  The second choice seems to be a whole lot more attractive."  As simple as that.  It is as if he is saying, "No need to sympathize.  I am not doing it for any martyrdom or heroism, I am doing it for myself because that's the only sensible thing to do."  We too should look at our choices, decide which one is more likely to have a greater pay-off, and go with that one.

 Recent reports indicates that Reeve has developed rudimentary sensations at one or two spots of his body.  He can now breathe several hours on his own without the machine.  He is traveling long distances, educating the public, collecting funds for spinal cord- regeneration research, and inspiring other handicapped people and agencies.  In an interview with Chantal in Good Morning America (GMA), Reeve stated his belief that one day he will walk.  Commenting on the interview, Chantal said that Reeve's belief in himself is so strong that even she has come to believe that one day Reeve will eventually walk.  Whether he will one day really walk or not is beside the point.  The point is that he has set a goal for himself.  This goal will keep challenging him, inspiring him, and driving him to stretch himself farther and farther.  Goals have a power of their own.  Once we set a goal, commit to it with determination, a goal creates its own force and momentum.

 We all have been too scared, almost paralyzed if I may say so, by the fear of raising false hope.  Those who are "handicapped" by odds and chances against success, say, "Don't raise your hopes too high."  The medical world is cautious and conservative in these matters, lest hopes belied in the future should breakdown a person in depression later.  Should we let a person languish in depression now to save them from depression later?  Do not deny anyone hope as hope can generate the power to conquer against the odds.  Besides, a hopeless person is depressed right now.  Without a goal, a cause, and a vision, the person may descend into despair in the future.  

 Hope doesn't mean suppression of facts.  It means give all the facts.  For example, if 80% people die within the first year of the onset of a particular disease, that fact is only one half of the whole fact.  The other half is that 20% people  survive the first year.  Emphasize a positive fact because it's likely to be overlooked by a person in crisis.  Perhaps, there is a new drug that may be being processed by FDA to come out in the next few months.  There may be an exciting piece of research going on now which can significantly change patients' survival rate.  Finally, miracles also happen.   Someone said, "if you don't believe in miracles, you are not a realist."  So hope is nothing but a focus on that 20% who made it, a belief in a more positive future, and a "will see" attitude--"I'll see what happens, something may happen in my case that hasn't happened before.  Who knows?"           

   As regards Reeve, results of his undaunted efforts are already visible.  His positive attitude, determination, and belief in himself has already significantly improved his after-accident life.  He is not vegetating; he is moving forward.  Not only he is changing his life, he is changing other people's lives too--all those people who depend on tomorrow's cutting edge technology to overcome today's handicaps.  Today, there are 50 million Americans with some type of disability.  Reeve's actions will have a direct or indirect impact on the life of one in five Americans.  

 Before the accident, as an able-bodied man, Reeve did a great job in portraying the character of Superman.  After the accident, paralyzed and wheelchaired(perhaps temporarily), he is not merely playing the role of Superman, he has become a Superman.  For me personally, this act is much more convincing.            

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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