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"A Shoulder To Lean On"

Essay by Christopher Reeve

A Shoulder To Lean On I have been to the edge and back since I nearly died twice in 1995. And the fact is, everything I do with my family, every place I go and everything we see, we share in a new light. This is our triumph. We are happier now than before the accident. I value the present, the here and now.

My five-year-old son, Will, has memories of things we did before: sailing, throwing rocks in the water down by the dock, roughhousing in bed, hiking out in the woods. Now I can't hug him. I can't throw him a ball. I can't help him ride his bike. But I've learned something. It is not about doing with a child--it is about the being.

A lot of parents say, "Well, I took them skiing, I taught them to play tennis, I did this and that," but they might not have been connecting. They might have been doing the activity, but they're not really in the groove. What I've found is that being with your children is what really counts, connecting with their heart. A lot of times we'll just hang out. Will hangs on my arm, we talk, and he can tell from the look in my eyes how much I love him. That's what really matters.

After the accident, Will got braver. He became fearless. It was as though he had looked his worst fear in the face--that I wouldn't make it--and before, he had nothing else to worry about. Now he uses me as a jungle gym. He climbs on me all the time--when he wakes up from his nap, he'll come right in and jump on me. I'm so pleased. As as father, it would have been distressing if he had been afraid of me because I'm in a wheelchair. I want all my children to continue to count on me. I will always be there for them to lean on.

I've realized that an accident like mine can happen to any of us at any time. I'm glad it happened to me at age 43, and not 22 or 15. That is what really breaks my heart--when I see kids who are struggling with this. I've had wonderful opportunities. I've got a lot of good mileage behind me, and I've got a lot of good mileage ahead of me, too. This is not a road I would have picked, but a lot of times things get picked for you. Either I give in and say, all right, let's make the best of this.

What I think is a true test of a human being is what you do after something catastrophic happens, whether it's a flood, famine, or disaster in your family. It's what you do after the event. It's what you do with it. I have faith in the best possibilities of human beings--that we can do more than we think we can, that love really conquers every possible problem. Love has been the strongest force in my life--with my wife, Dana, with my children.

The main lesson in life for us to learn is that we're really connected. We're part of a six-billion-member family. We have to really see people. We have to be there for each other. We have to lean on each other. That's how we're all going to make it.

1998 Bright Books


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