Christopher Reeve will always be remembered for three things: as Superman/Clark Kent in the Richard Donner movie franchise of the 1970s and 80s; for his horrific horse riding accident that nearly cost him his life and left him a vent dependent quadriplegic; and for his tireless efforts at bringing awareness to the need for more research and funding for medical advances for those with central nervous system injuries like his own. He was a real life Superman; a Hero both on screen and off. And to me, he’s become a teacher through his writing.
I picked up his book “Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life” for practically nothing at a local thrift store last week. The title spoke volumes to me, as this is the philosophy I’m trying to adopt since being diagnosed with breast cancer in January. I was also curious as to what he had to say about various things, as I always found him so profound and moving whenever he would make public appearances on award shows after his accident. I wasn’t disappointed.
His naked honesty stunned me. While he was drifting in and out of consciousness, right after the horse riding accident that paralyzed him for the rest of his short life, he felt that life wasn’t worth living. He was ready to give up, that his family would be better off if he wasn’t alive. He mentions telling Dana, his wife, how he felt and that she gave him two years. She said if he was still feeling, in two years, the way he was feeling at that moment, they would revisit the topic. It was ultimately what gave him the drive and the will to fight. He developed an appreciation for life and everything in it. Going through every medical horror imaginable, from skin breakdowns, to infections and pneumonia, he never gave up. It’s that tenacity that kept me going throughout the book. It’s that type of tenacity that I hope to display in my own life as I move on after my treatments are done.
Chris wrote about more than just the first few months after the accident. He writes about adjusting to life as a ventilator dependent quadriplegic. He writes about how his family adjusted to their new life. He writes about his struggles with insurance companies. Every ounce of passion and struggle is very naked on every page of this little volume of sheer brilliance.
Yet, he never gave up. And that’s the lesson I take with me. His attitude was, as the title states, “Nothing is Impossible”. He believed that we could overcome any obstacle put in our way, work together cohesively, achieve anything we set our minds to. The thing I appreciated most, however was the style in which he did it. He wasn’t preachy or “in your face” about it all. He was gentle, almost suggestive of how he saw life and how he thought of things. That’s what made him so unique.
His fierce battles with Congress about getting funding for stem cell research don’t go unnoticed here in this book. He details how hard he fought and the walls he came up against. I hope that, after his untimely death 7 years ago, progress has been made and people are still fighting to make his dream happen. To see stem cell therapy being used to help people with spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s Disease and other Central Nervous System diseases was a goal he worked tirelessly to achieve.
He ends the book of essays with an excerpt from an essay called “The Lighthouse”. It’s in a section about Hope and I’d like to quote three passages for you. They may seem as though they are taken out of context here but even standing alone they are most profound:
“Lighthouses – tall, sturdy, and built to withstand the pounding surf and raging winds – warn passing ships to avoid crashing into rocks or dangerous reefs near shore. Lighthouses have guided sailors through troubled waters for as long as anyone can remember…
At some time, often when we least expect it, we all have to face overwhelming challenges. We are more troubled than we have ever been before; we may doubt that we have what it takes to endure. It is very tempting to give up, yet we have to find the will to keep going. But even when we discover what motivates us, we realize that we can’t go the distance alone.
When the unthinkable happens, the lighthouse is hope. Once we find it, we must cling to it with absolute determination, much as our crew did when we saw the light of Gibb’s Hill that October afternoon. Hope must be real, and built on the same solid foundation, as a lighthouse; in that way it is different from optimism or wishful thinking. When we have hope, we discover powers within ourselves we may never have known – the power to make sacrifices, to endure, to heal and to love. Once we choose hope, everything is possible. We are all on this sea together. But the lighthouse is always there, ready to show us the way home.”
Thank you, Chris, wherever you are, for writing such a moving book. And I thank the Powers That Be for putting me in that store on the day I bought this book, for helping me recognize that I needed to read it. And you need to as well. You can find it at any library, or call your local bookstore or used bookstore. If you are going through any kind of medical situation and need some inspiration, get this book.