Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Second Life

I am not a fan of celebrities so much as I am a voyeur and critic of them. I don't confuse actors with roles and I don't have much time for spoiled rich folks whinging about their privacy being invaded or the emotional rigours of "becoming" their character while surreptitiously glancing at a watch which costs 10 years' worth of my salary. I am, frankly, too socialist for that. (I gossip about their flaws and foibles, oh yes, bitchily.) Actors, let's face it, are neurotic by nature, often shallow and vain; it goes with the territory. There's nothing wrong with that, but lionizing them as people rather than as performers is pitiful.

I am especially appalled at the guttings of grief that people pour out because someone famous has died. Such grief deserves to be reserved for the people you know and love, not the people you erroneously think you know and love because of the noble character they played in "Revenge: Blood and Glory IV".

But I must say I felt a genuine twinge at the recent death of Christopher Reeve. Not because he played "Superman". Not because he was a handsome man leading a charmed life, struck by tragedy. And not even because he became such a powerful advocate for the cause of spinal injury research. But because, even before he died, he had entered my field of vision as a very real role model of living what I think of as "the second life".

The second life is the life you have to build after something - usually catastrophic - happens to wipe away not only the life you had, but the future you had envisioned for yourself. The death of a spouse or of a child. A serious accident, a serious injury. Blindness, deafness, disability.

Your future was written with reasonable expectation in the sand of your life and a wave just washed up and wiped the slate clean. And you have to start over.

And how you do that defines your second life. Some people are paralyzed - emotionally and figuratively, as well as literally. Some crumble. Some hide. Some give up and accept the image of themselves the world hands them. Cripple. Dependent. Helpless. Welfare case. Victim. And some just do their very best to pick up where they left off and build that second life - with massive detours, to be sure, but with a future and goals and plans.

That's what I admire about Christopher Reeve. He picked himself up and started living again. He was convinced he'd walk in his lifetime and I, for one, would not have been remotely surprised if he had. Pleased, but not surprised. He threw himself into spinal injury research, yes, but he didn't define himself by that work. He defined himself by his personal goals: he was going to move a muscle (and he did). He was going to have sensation again (and he did). He was going to be in an upright position again (and he was). He was going to get off his hated respirator (and he did).

He was going to walk.

It would have been easy to do what he had done before his injury - just "be a celebrity" for the cause of spinal injury research, just smile and try to look good, bask in the public's adulation. And he did some of that. But he did the hard work, too, the rehab, the rebuilding, the stuff that hurts.

He had built a marvelous second life. And it is too pathetic that he died as a result of something as ignoble as a pressure sore at just 52. And that's why it made me sad.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home