social friends and family, i wanted to share this letter from a dear friend, president and ceo of the reeve foundation; a cause near and dear to my heart. xoxo- with grace and gratitude, cristina
“When you arrive at the Reeve Foundation headquarters in New Jersey, you immediately see larger-than-life photos of Christopher and Dana through the glass doors in the hallway, and it’s hard not to dedicate much of this race to them. As you pass through the front door, you are struck by Christopher’s immense, empty wheelchair – an image so profound most people are stopped in their tracks. A reporter once asked Matt Reeve how he felt about seeing that chair, to which Matt instantly replied, “I like it. Dad was all about getting people out of chairs.”
I hope Chris & Dana would be proud of how the Foundation has evolved, and their now adult children’s active role in it. Alan Brown mentioned to me how inspired he is every time he sees or speaks to Alexandra, Matt & Will, and graciously added: “They’ve lost so much more than me.”
We have a motto of sorts of our own at the Foundation, and we talk a lot about it – the “power of we.” We believe everyone has a story, and we welcome and invite each of them to tell it. It is precisely what I’ve attempted to do with my 26 inspirations marathon blog. The impetus for the blog came during a conversation with Jennifer Longdon, when she questioned why we don’t feature more stories about Team Reeve athletes with SCI. And so it began.
Truthfully, I found writing those stories harder than the training, and I would sometimes stay awake at night wondering if I said the wrong thing, or perhaps interjected my own beliefs or feelings, or wrote something inappropriate. There are so many more stories I would have liked to write—but time was short and that list of names is endless.
In addition, we must always remember that, while all the stories are equally important, not everyone in our community has the same hope, opportunities or circumstance. Some people just give up, are unable to tolerate the pain and despair, oftentimes, there is family strife – a kid that doesn’t understand, a partner who just can’t bear it, a parent consumed by anger. The financial costs are overwhelming and some, tragically, simply run out of resources. The insurance battles and struggle to get basic services never stops: “My insurance company is trying to kill me,” someone once remarked to me.
There are the daily insults, either through inaccessibility, or comments like those Henry told me he often gets: “I think I’m having a bad day and then I think of you, Henry.” These statements always baffle Henry, as he’s one of the most upbeat, happy guys on the planet. And to be honest, there are some people disappointed with our Foundation, angry about a direction we took or something they’ve seen us do. Occasionally, they’re right, and it helps to remind us that our work is never done. And there are the new injury calls that keep coming, and that dark circle begins again.
I have the lyrics to a song on my fridge that goes: “I can name the people I know that don’t know themselves without talking to nobody.” Socrates said it more succinctly: “an unexamined life is not worth living.” What I’ve learned from these interviews is the reality that in order to truly demonstrate kindness, you have to experience suffering. And know yourself. The 26 who were featured know themselves as well as anyone I’ve ever met—and allowed me to see from their experiences what love and life is all about.
As the years go by, I may forget some of the details they told me, but I will never forget the way their stories made me feel. Jennifer doesn’t know who shot her, and they never learned who jumped on Julie, but neither of them even cares anymore. I wish I could balance Eric’s smile with Alex’ abandonment. Angela and Fran continue their love of fashion, and Antonia sings like a beautiful bird. Scott is the epitome of what a friend should be, and Rey just wants to serve his country. Bill and Bernadette remind me that if the object of our affection is not always those living with paralysis and their families, then the research doesn’t mean a thing.
Team Reeve, though still in its infancy, is personified by the two John’s. Our founders, and that includes Hank Stifel and Mike Hughes, along with Chris and Dana, would be proud that in our mix are Greg, Danny, Pete, John, Luke, Taylor and Mandy. Marilyn’s been at this the longest and has remained upbeat all the way, and I will never forget what Janne did for love. There’s my own posse too, of course, John, Henry, Rob and Alan, whom I talk to almost every day.
About a year ago, I was out to dinner with someone who I respect as much as any person I’ve ever met. As we were about to say our goodbyes, we experienced one of those uniquely NY moments – a man approached with his hand out, pleading for money. When I’m with my kids, this would be one of those “teachable” moments when they look to see how I handle the situation, and learn a valuable lesson. But on this night, I became uneasy and stumbled and looked away. My companion simply reached into her purse and handed him a dollar. And we walked away, continuing our conversation without mention of or acknowledging what just happened. Later, when I reached home, I noted this in my journal: sometimes the gentlest touch leaves an indelible mark. There was a moment during each of the 26 conversations I had where such a mark was made, and I am deeply grateful to have their gentleness in my life.
T.S. Eliot said that “old men ought to be explorers”- he didn’t say anything about marathons. One of these days, I’ll come to my senses, hopefully, and realize I’ve already checked off this box and be done with them. I started running to fulfill a promise I made when my life was spared all those years ago and I lost most of one lung to imperfect radiation. I may be wearing the official number 55276 on my bib today, but I’m an imposter in this race; I don’t feel ready and I’m not certain I can finish, but of this I AM sure: these 26 individuals will persuade me to think not of finishing, but of having the courage to take the next step.
So many people have supported me financially and with their kindness. Every time it seems to get dark, Cristina Carlino sends me a bright beam of healing light. Thank goodness for Steve Jobs and the iPod – that little invention got me through the long runs, although with 4,000+ songs shuffling, hearing the Beatles “boy, you’re gonna carry that weight a long time” on my last long run seemed a particularly cruel message from the universe.
The staff has been great – Leigh, Rob and Mark challenging me, Aimee standing tall (well, trying to), daily comments from Michele and Rebecca and the two Katie’s, Ed, Steve, Joe and Maggie and Susan astound me and Bea and Trish did a fabulous job of editing and posting all these missives.
Should I need an extra dose of encouragement, I will remind myself of our Board that treats me like gold, and all my tried and true friends who always stand by me. And if I need to smile, I’ll simply think of Kathy.
Whenever I need an answer, I know I can call my eldest son, Pete, because he, of course, knows everything. Pete thinks I’m too old to do this, Mikey wants me to win it, and David wants me to dance the whole way. And always, Lindsey showers me with unconditional love – no matter how much I frustrate or embarrass her.
When we look out for one another, we all become so much stronger, and that is a big lesson I learned in this process. Almost universally, when talking about the fear side of the ledger, everyone mentioned the process of growing older. My takeaway from this experience, however, is that if you can still see the beauty in something, you will never grow old. Having intimately glimpsed into the lives of these 26 beautiful souls, I’m feeling far more youthful – like the Bees Knees – nowadays! Cheers from London!”