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Sunday, July 13, 2008

What Do You Focus On?

Going through the WalMart last night, I ran across a new book about Christopher and Dana Reeve called Somewhere in Heaven: The Remarkable Love Story of Dana and Christopher Reeve.

It made me sad to browse through the pictures in the center. Christopher Reeve was the Superman actor in the 70s and 80s who was paralyzed from the neck down after a horseback-riding accident in 1995. His wife Dana, and then-3-year-old son, Will, stood by him as he underwent a long and slow recovery. I remember hearing about his shocking and tragic accident, and the subsequent snippets of milestones: he was weaned from the ventilator, he was able to move home, he started directing, he acted in a remake of Hitchcock's Rear Window with Darryl Hannah. I saw Rear Window and noted how weak his voice was. I couldn't help admiring his foundation for spinal cord injuries, and the research he wanted to promote so that people receiving or with this condition would be able to have the damage limited to a bare minimum. (I disagree with Reeve's desire for embryonic stem cell research, but that's a different story).

A few years before he died he attended some sort of televised awards ceremony, and they showed a digitized clip of Reeve standing from his wheelchair and walking across the podium. It was stunning to see, even if only fantasy. He astounded doctors when, after much physical therapy and personal drive, he was able to move his forefinger.

Christopher Reeve's dream was to someday walk again, and he poured all of his hope and energy into recapturing his broken body's vigor. In an interview by Reader's Digest in 2004, I remember he said something like he was anxious for the research to proceed because he wasn't getting any younger. He died a few months later of sepsis.

One can't help contrasting Reeve with another famous quadriplegic, Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni was seventeen years old in 1967 when she went swimming in the Chesapeake Bay (Maryland) with her sister. She dove off a platform and broke her neck. After 40 years Joni has accomplished more than most people: award-winning books, beautiful paintings, a daily radio program, and an organization called Joni and Friends that provides wheelchairs to people in third world countries who otherwise must drag themselves on the ground.

Contrasting with Reeve's grim determination, Joni projects a much happier appearance in her books and speaking engagements. I've heard her interviewed a number of times on the radio, and she often spontaneously breaks into song. She admits that what she lives with is profoundly difficult, but she is content to go through it rather than insist on being rescued from it.

Why the difference?

Obviously personality plays a part, but it must be more than that. To me, it seems like the difference in focus -- here in this world versus looking to the next -- seems to have a profound effect on the happiness of the individual. I'm NOT saying that Reeve didn't ponder theological matters or have a relationship with God; simply that, based on the snippets that were publicly released, his focus didn't seem to rest there.

Joni is profoundly Christian, clinging to the Lord with every breath she takes. She says that this world is very temporary, and her condition allows her to develop spiritual qualities that otherwise could never be. There is no bitterness; every word that she speaks seems to focus on Jesus and how much she loves him.

I can't begin to understand what quadriplegia is like. Still, I have a physical condition that is frustrating to deal with. I know that when this happened to me, I had the choice of becoming bitter or moving beyond. It's very tempting to sit around and say "poor me," and I admit I did my share of this. I'm happy to say that I finally did move beyond it, though. I'm convinced God exists, and once that truth is established I'm content to trust, and wait, and hope.

For those of you who aren't Christian, this might sound almost like a "sour grapes" philosophy: if I can't have it, it's not that great. But that's not it. Of course I'd love to be healed and do the things I used to do, but it's not essential. There is a great peace in knowing that God is in charge, and although I can't see or touch Him now, He is absolutely real.


Krista Phillips said...

What a tough subject! It is one that is always on my heart though. I won't even go into it though as my comment would be longer than your post! LOL

That said... I agree, there is definately a difference. I hadn't really heard of Joni, but from what you described, I think Reeves had the desire to OVERCOME his disability, to walk again, to move his finger, to be strong again. Joni came at it from the perspective of accepting, and making the best out of her situation. There isn't a right or wrong perspective. And as a person with all her faculties, I could never say a harsh word at all.

I think maybe a difference too is the classic 'male' 'female' difference as well. A Male needs to prove himself as a Man. Being paralyzed wouldn't change that need.

Krista Phillips said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christina Berry said...

What a great comparison! I've always been fascinated by Joni.

Amy Deardon said...

Krista, I think you're right about the male/female dichotomy also. Great thought!