Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Christopher Reeves, rest in peace

Christopher Reeves played Superman. After he made four movies as the man of steel, he was thrown from a horse and paralyzed from the neck down. The accident that paralyzed him was one of the most powerful ironies of our time.

Reeves represented Superman: faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound and invulnerable to almost everything in the universe that can hurt mere mortals. Superman was the fantasy of godhood brought to man. Through the fantasy, we also became all-powerful and invulnerable. It could be a heady experience. He was, in a way, an alternative to Christ.

Christ offered hope in suffering; Superman offered a life without suffering. Christ taught us that if you had the right spirit then you could have joy no matter what your outward circumstances; Superman taught us that if you were strong enough you could make your circumstances be whatever you want.

When Reeves was paralyzed, we saw the man who represented power reduced to powerlessness. Superman was faster than a speeding bullet; Reeves could not even walk. Superman was more powerful than a locomotive; Reeves was not able to lift his own arm. Superman was able to leap tall buildings; Reeves needed someone to feed him. Superman was invulnerable; Reeves died from a bed sore.

In 1978 when Reeves made the first Superman movie, I was seventeen years old. I was young and strong. I thought I was bulletproof and I would take risks just for the sake of taking risks. Over the years, that changed. I started to feel the effects of age. I had aches and pains. I didn't heal as fast as I used to. When I decided to get back in shape, I would hurt myself just by exercising.

It was a depressing experience, and a little bit frightening. And I was still adjusting to it when Superman was brought low. Reeve's accident wouldn't have effected me so much if it had happened a bit earlier before I started the long decline or a little later after I had become inured to it. But because of what was going on in my life at the time, I found it very troubling. If that could happen to Superman, it could happen to anyone.

Still, life goes on. And Reeves proved that you can continue to be a part of life even if you have no physical power left. The man that once offered us an alternative to Christ's solution, proved the power of that solution.

I don't mean to imply that Reeves was a Christian. I don't know if he was. But I do know that he carried on with a full life even though his range of activity was greatly truncated. He proved that you don't need to be physically powerful to be a powerful influence. The lesson of the latter part of his life was far greater than the lesson of the earlier part.

No comments: