I have noticed that people have begun referring to Christopher Reeve as a “hero”. I do not wish to take away one iota of the courage he must have needed not to wake up screaming every single day, but the hard truth is there was nothing “heroic” in what happened to him, or how he dealt with it. In fact, as far as how he dealt with it, he didn’t even have a choice. We could imagine he spent every hour of every day (when not in front of the cameras) begging family members to simply kill him and get it over with — but none of them did, so he had no choice but to deal with each day as it came.*
Heroism, I believe, involves choice.
*Not in any way suggesting this is what was happening, just in case there are those who are paralyzed from the neck up who might be reading these words…
Byrne has been attacked for the quote above on multitudes of blogs. I happen to understand completely what Byrne is saying — from a first-hand perspective. But still, he is wrong.
When I was 17 I found myself paralyzed from the neck down from a disease called Guillain Barre Syndrome. Several classmates, teachers, and friends of my parents praised me on my courage and heroism. But from my perspective, I had no choice. I only did what I had to do.
Of course, I did have a choice. I could have woken up every morning screaming. I could have hurled curses at nurses, doctors, etc. I could have refused to cooperate with physical and occupational therapists. I fought to regain control of my muscles. But I didn’t then, and still don’t view that as heroic. Common sense, maybe. I wanted to get better, so I did everything to achieve that end. And there was absolutely no reason to take out my anger and frustration on others.
Byrne was pointing out that Reeve didn’t have that option to fight, though. But he took the fight elsewhere. He didn’t have to devote his time and money to the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. And his efforts there were heroic. He probably knew any advancments that were to come would not be in time for him. The work he did was for others.
So no, surviving from day to day is not in itself heroic. But that isn’t all that Reeve did after the accident. He didn’t just survive from day to day.