I talked with the cartoonist John Callahan shortly after the late Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in his riding accident in 1995. Callahan’s a quadriplegic too. He’s a shaky-handed cartoonist who lampoons social attitudes toward disability.
One recent cartoon shows a beggar on the street. Instead of hands, the beggar has sharp scythes. The sign near his cup reads, “Will refrain from shaking hands with you. $5.00.”
When Reeve responded to the accident not only by resuming his acting and directing career but also becoming a spokesperson for spinal cord research, Callahan jokingly complained about Reeve, who was best known for his movie role as Superman.
“He’s making it hard to be a self-pitying crip,” Callahan told me. “The SuperCrip is setting the bar awfully high.”
Now Stephen Hawking, 65, set the bar even higher – and soared over it. The accomplished astrophysicist and author of A Brief History of Time has used a wheelchair for nearly four decades, but he “flew” during a buoyant journey on a Boeing 727. The plane created a zero-gravity effect for passengers by looping through the sky in huge arcs.
“It was amazing,” said Hawking, who pirouetted like a “gold-medal gymnast” during the 25-second segments of weightlessness, a crew member reported in the Washington Post.
The stunt raised money to combat several diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the one that has severely disabled Hawking.
It also raised awareness of people with disabilities. “I hope many people will follow in my path,” Hawking said.
Callahan and comrades, watch out. Another SuperCrip is refusing to be limited by even by the laws of physics, such as gravity.
Hawking believes space exploration will save our species when we destroy the earth.
Personally, I don’t believe we need to go that far, literally. We just need to stop polluting our home.
But I do believe that people, including disabled people, often limit themselves with “ground rules” that restrict their achievements.
And I do believe that all of us can fly.
Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation