Now I wasn't a stark raving mad fan of Superman, though of the superhero set, he was my favorite. I did have a Superman shirt but I don't believe I had any other superhero shirts. I don't recall reading any of the comics, but if there were cartoons of Superman, I would have watched them. I don't think I ever saw any one of the movies more than a time or two, and maybe not even all of them once. I wasn't a rabid fan, but Superman was my guy. Then again, typically, I am not particularly outspoken, especially as a kid. But I guess if there was any childhood hero, Superman may have been mine.
But I winced in grief when I heard that Chris Reeve got hurt nine years ago. You know, Superman is supposed to be indestructible, and here he was, broken. The cult of Superman personality had waned for me by the time I was 21 or 22 but I still remember thinking it was a damned shame that it would happen to Reeve. Even if he wasn't Superman, he was still an impressive human being, at the very least in his physical figure. We don't like to think that strong, well-built, active people can be reduced to such a fate so easily. It makes the rest of us look bad. Superman is so much a part of our national psyche, I think we all winced at the news of his accident. It's sad that it would happen to anyone, but poignant that it would happen to the man who was supposed to be indestrucible.
But then we also knew it was good old Chris Reeve and not his superhero persona who was hurt. I didn't follow his post-accident life much more than I did before then, but when I checked in or heard stuff on the radio or TV, I always paid attention. In 2002 or so, I was listening to NPR when he was on Fresh Air or some other lengthy inteview. He was talking about how he could move his finger and could feel touch, pinpricks, and a few other sensations. Everyone who had anything to say about it proclaimed his progress a miracle. Of course anyone in his position who would achieve that would be deemed a miracle, and it would be fascinating, but this was Superman on the mend! He was even talking about being able to walk again. Even if he wasn't the Man of Steel, he was the Man with the Will of Steel, and you can't knock that.
If I were an aspiring actor, Reeve may have been my hero like Rick Allen was to me in my early days of drumming. Both are really inspiring to me, but Rick was my direct personal hero. I think Viktor Frankl would be damned proud of these guys. I guess you find the strength to go on after such massive setbacks, but it is hard to imagine how to conquer the situation when it is not your reality. Rick Allen and Chris Reeve are celebrity figures though; both of them at least had some ability to pay for the best treatment that money could buy, and could find ready supporters of their causes, or just in their daily lives. But now I have to think of less fortunate people who are now in their shoes and aren't nearly as influential or known.
It brings me great sadness to realize how many of our soldiers are coming home with missing limbs, or nerve damage, or some even para- or quadriplegic. Some will come home to an underfunded VA hospital, or will commit suicide, or will have wives that divorce them and take the kids. These guys are not going to get the popular reception that awaited a recovering Chris Reeve or Rick Allen. I don't dismiss the progress of Chris or Rick, but for a moment, let's say they are the same as any other who have lost use of all or part of their bodies. Their traumas are great as they are, but let me imagine the mental anguish of one of our soldiers, or of any soldier, who has not only become disabled or disfigured, but also has seen numerous buddies die (survivor's guilt), and at the same time, a government that sent them to this for a lie, and on top of that, has cut benefits and pay for servicemen. These soldiers don't stand much of a chance, their trauma has been piled on so high. It just hurts me to think of the injustices done to them. And for the most part, they struggle on like all the other soldiers have done, with a dogged belief that they fought and gave to a cause they believed in.
But does the cause believe in them?
One of the most devastating scenes in Fahrenheit 9/11 is the part at the VA hospital, where we see armless, legless, and nerve damaged soldiers who just don't know why they gave what they gave. They went in good faith and with the best of intentions but were not given the degree of attention they deserve for doing the World's Dirtiest Job. There is more to Iraq than death tolls. The dead ones are almost the lucky ones (not to say their families are). Chris Reeve had clout that no US soldier except maybe Pat Tillman would have, and he's dead. What the government is doing now is so wrong. Going to war for a lie is wrong, getting maimed is more wrong, but whittling down soldier's pay and benefits is just downright evil, especially in the context of other people getting rich off the war. Some of these guys are going to make something of their lives, but what about the dude who lost both arms? It's hard to go to college when you can't write or hold a book.
It makes me sick.
So farewell Chris Reeve, Superman. I hope you set something into motion while you were here. Our next president just said you were a great inspiration and center of a key movement that could really do some good. I know there will be some soldiers looking for meaning in life, with their careers being cut short due to the loss of their body's full functionality. I hope they get to know you and your story and what hope really is. I hope they decide to go home from the hospital and become another great soul in the world, maybe a Max Cleland who knows what sacrifice is, but didn't give up. I hope they go home and are as determined to be good husbands and fathers like they once set out to be patriotic and determined fighters. Say a prayer that people don't forget them and their cause.