Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2004 / 26 Tishrei 5765
Jay D. Homnick
Christopher Reeve, R.I.P.
The passing of Christopher Reeve leaves a pang in the heart of all people
of sensitivity and conscience. Measured against the sensations of flesh and
the rotations of the clock, his seems a stunted life, constricted then
foreshortened by tragedy. But when assessed through the lens of the
eternal, it was something uniquely complete, a fine jewel, beveled and
A sort of superstitious stigma has attended the role of Superman in film.
Apparently, a number of men who have attempted it were later beset by bleak
vicissitudes of fate. Actors have begun to harbor the suspicion that it
does not behoove Man, even in flights of histrionic fancy, to assume powers
that borrow from the realm of the divine. But Reeve had worn the role in
utmost humility; these morbid merchants of hindsight are peddling a cruel
sham. That film was a legitimate exercise in fantasy, but his injury was
the stuff of grim reality.
More profitable not to hector the actor but to attend with patience the
patient. Let us accompany the young man, son of a professor and himself
well-educated, successful in his career, fine husband and father, beloved
and admired by many, as he sets out that fateful morning on his faithful
horse for a moment of equestrian recreation. Somehow the carrier is rattled
and in his confusion the rider is thrown. He wakes up in a hospital inside
a body stilled by paralysis.
Imagine the shock to that proud spirit. How easy the path of retreat! How
convenient the road to despair! Who could have faulted him had he turned
away from the narrow and dark tunnel that was left to him to navigate? Who
would condemn him if he simply let the Grim Reaper claim his soul as a
No. No. No. Never. He fought. He fought for every moment. He fought
for every measly inch that the world would stingily afford. The list of
degrading procedures that he had to endure constantly would daunt the
hardiest soldier. Knights who slew dragons with ease would crumple into
groveling wrecks if confronted by his challenges.
He faced them all, and he did it with indomitable strength and spirit, with
grace and aplomb. He never said a harsh word in public nor uttered the
slightest whimper or grumble.
The Jewish tradition admonishes us to avoid
corrupting the elegiac by cloaking it in the hyperbolic, but in this
instance there is no fear of exaggeration. In numerous interviews, and
later in public appearances and projects, he comported himself with absolute
dignity, utterly transcending the pain and humiliation of his daily
He was not alone in his heroic quest. His wife Dana and his friend Robin
Williams are the ones whose names we know, but numberless doctors and nurses and physical therapists joined that long march against adversity. He
inspired them; they inspired him; they displayed humanity at its very best.
When he worked again as an actor and director, it was the crowning
achievement of the entire saga. To not only survive but to create, to
gather the forces of intellect and emotion and spirit to achieve and inspire
even when the body is denied its contribution, this was the very soul of
Now the soul has been taken, too, and we are the poorer for losing so rich
a companion. Yet the memory is ours to treasure. It edifies well beyond
sentimentality; a real model of refined human behavior accompanies us,
giving the lie to our petty gripes but giving too the strength to endure
life's most crushing blows.
It occurs to me that we need not be shy about giving him the name that he
earned, because he earned it with blood and pain and anguish which he faced
not as a victim but as a combatant. In his paralysis he moved worlds; he
used a vision like an x-ray to see through to the heart of life; and he
shared what he saw in the tones of a mild-mannered reporter. Yes, it is
true, he was the closest thing in our little world (call it Smallville, if
you will), in our "Daily Planet", to Superman.
JWR contributor Jay D. Homnick is the author of many books and essays on Jewish political and religious affairs. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2003, Jay D. Homnick