It’s been twenty-four years since Christopher Reeve, aka Superman, fell off his horse competing at an equestrian event and broke his neck. Why was a good Democrat like him jumping around in such a patrician sport? I love to watch fancy horses and riders ballet through their Olympic paces on TV but come on! Superman?
After an understandably gloomy recovery, wheelchair-bound Superman rose to become an effective advocate for disability rights and a staunch promoter of research for spinal cord injuries. When he appeared at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) in 2004, I asked my friend, Marca Bristo, herself a world-famous disability rights advocate, if she was going to see him.
Marca broke her neck when she was a twenty-year-old nursing student, spent a year recovering in what was the first year of RIC’s existence, and learned how to live and love in a heavy metal wheelchair. We were avid moviegoers, but she hesitated in honoring Christopher Reeve. Not because he was no longer a movie star, of course, but because she didn’t fully support his work in regenerative research. To Marca life was all about acceptance. Reeve plunged headlong (pardon the pun) into seeking a cure for spinal cord injuries.
He lobbied for embryonic stem cell therapy to heal the spine, took synthetic drugs to heal the spine, exercised to heal the spine. He founded one of the leading spinal cord research centers in the world. Knowing his injury would lead to an early death, he was on the inside track running toward the regenerative finish line.
I understand the frenzy to find a cure. I thought I was going to die before I found a solution for my chronic pain. The search alone turned pain to suffering. And I understand the reluctance in facing an incurable malady. For ten years my outsides announced I’m an alcoholic out loud in AA meetings, while my insides waged war against the world.
I didn’t drink but I didn’t want to be a sober alcoholic, didn’t want to say I was an alcoholic and sure as hell didn’t want to know other sober alcoholics. I looked for relief in self-help books, exercise, talk-therapy, anti-depressants, sex, food and spiritual retreats. I’ve always known there was no cure for alcoholism, but subterranean stubbornness kept me on the prowl for anything other than acceptance of that truth. I banged my head against a steel drum until the sound of metal made me so sick I finally cried uncle.
Like walk, eat and love,“accept” needs to be put it in motion. Everyday I actively accept what I can’t change. If I let acceptance lie fallow, uneasiness simmers below the surface. Eventually defiance boils over and I find myself throwing tantrums in Walgreen’s because the clerk is too slow or obsessing over a bag of potato chips.
I accept this.
It is what it is.
This is what Marca Bristo wished for Christopher Reeve.