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October 11, 2004
I heard about Christopher Reeve's death before Q did, in my early morning hours with the BBC. We had not known he was ailing, but he was: more and more frequent infections, and more serious ones, including a terrible bout with septicemia earlier this year -- all familiar and grave hazards of life as a quadriplegic -- just at the time he was working so hard on walking and exercise and seeing some success. Electric stimulation to the muscles of his legs, exactly like those my heart receives from my pacemaker, and they sprang into motion: bicycling, walking on a treadmill, finding their former elasticity and a fraction of their former strength, ready for the repair to his spinal cord upon which Chris had pinned his considerable hope and his prodigious resolve.

We borrowed Chris sometimes, Q and I: his courage, his progress. Q's son Ross was quadriplegic after an accident, too, and succumbed after only three weeks to the same pneumonia that eventually took Chris, despite all his courage. We would hear of Chris doing something wonderful -- of his finger finding a small range of actual motion again, of his directing a play from his wheelchair, of his activism on behalf of the disabled -- and we would show each other an article about it in the paper. He rides a bicycle! He stands! He walks a little! For a moment, it was as if Ross were doing those things. He would have been intrepid like that, his dad knows. Oh, yes. He would have made use of everything available, as Chris did. He had been an athlete, too. He would have done his best. He would have done well.

These imaginings are gracious. They allow a vacation of sorts, a few moments in a different world from the hard one in which we actually live. What if things were not as they are? What if he had lived, and had the chance to try? Most of us visit that land once in a while: What if we hadn't divorced? What if I had had children? What if I'd taken that job? What if something else had happened instead? Then this would be true, and this, and this. And it is as if our own nerves were awakened in that other possible world, as if we really felt these things. As if they were real.

We must always return here, of course. Ross never lived to move even a finger. Chris lived longer and used the time very well, but never lived to feel his strong body again.

Still, his hope kept him alive and working for much longer than anyone else ever expected. Life, so changed, was usually worth living -- Chris was honest enough to admit that sometimes he thought it was not, but only sometimes. His legacy of activism on behalf of those with spinal cord injuries survives him and will make the world better. Ross would have done that too, we told each other, Ross was a lawyer.

Thanks be to God that we had them at all. Thanks be to God for the baby who lives only a minute, for the young child whose life ends far too soon, for the young man unable to move. Thanks for everything they did have, however small, even if all they had was our hope and our love, and thanks for every minute they had it. And thanks for the other possible worlds we visit from time to time, seeing them strong and well, seeing things we do not see here, not ever. Are those worlds of possibility and hope Your kingdom? Does our hope contribute to their reality? Sometimes we feel that it does. Let us know.
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