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Eric: In Memorium: Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve was an avowed Atheist. But, as he once said (or so I've been told), "Even though I don't personally believe in the Lord, I try to behave as though He was watching." It's a good philosophy. One I can get behind.

Tomorrow, there will be an innumerable number of editorial cartoons showing Christopher Reeve entering the gates of a Heaven he didn't believe in, the same as when George Harrison died. He'll be wearing a Superman costume in most of them. And flying in many of them.

If there is an afterlife -- and I'm open on the subject -- and if there's any justice in the world, he won't be flying. He'll be walking. He always said he would walk again, and that's how I choose to imagine him now. One foot in front of the other, the way most of us take for granted.

But I understand why the cartoonists will put him in that costume and fly him through the air. Because I was a child when I saw him in that movie. And I believed. Just like the tagline said. I believed a man could fly.

I believed that man could fly.

There has never been anyone so perfectly suited to play Superman. Dean Cain comes close, but he lacks that certain wry sense of humor. George Reeves had the wry sense of humor, but lacked the utterly, complete lack of guile Reeve brought to the part. And besides, Christopher Reeve looked the way Curt swan drew. It's really kind of astounding.

I happened to watch Superman: The Movie about three months ago. Tivo caught it. It held up astoundingly well. And it proved conclusively that you don't need digital enhancement or redone special effects even in such a special-effects laden movie. Because when Clark Kent buckled his uniform's belt for that first time, in the Fortress of Solitude, stepped off into the air, and swept forth into the sky, he was really flying. I know that to be true. I saw it.

Christopher Reeve was never ashamed of the material. He treated Clark Kent and Clark's alter ego as a sacred trust. Even appearing on the Muppet Show he maintained a sense of respect for the material. That's more than the "Stars of Star Wars" could claim. He was always genial. A gentleman.

And then he had his accident. And we learned that when the worst adversity on Earth happened to Christopher Reeve, he maintained that geniality through it all... and proved once and for all that Superman was, if anything, typecasting. Because he believed, with all his heart, that he would walk again. As fervently as I believed he could fly. And he was gaining strength. Getting back feeling. He was working hard and exploring all options and advocating hard for the research that would set him free.

I think he would have made it. It was dumb luck that caused him to get an infection. And his weakened body couldn't take that infection well. He slipped into cardiac arrest, and then a coma, and then slipped away.

My hopes and thoughts are with his family. And with all of us -- his children, who believed he could fly. We have a responsibility to live our lives well -- to live up to his example. To live as if Christopher Reeve -- and God -- were watching, even if we don't believe in God or life after death. We have a responsibility to take up his causes and fight his fights. And we have a responsibility to face up to our own adversities with geniality and compassion.

It's a tall order. But he managed to it. Now it's our turn.

And most of all... we have to believe.

Because if we believe hard enough... we too can fly.

EDIT: Please give generously to The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at October 11, 2004 7:59 AM


Comment from: Patrick Harris posted at October 13, 2004 9:05 AM

I thought you might appreciate a relevant comic.

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