Miracle Drug (2)

Miracle Drug (2)

The heroism of Christopher Nolan (2)

“I want to highlight the creativity within the brain of a cripple, and while not attempting to hide the crippledom I want instead to filter all sob-storied sentiment from his portrait and dwell upon his life, his laughter, his vision.” (Christopher Nolan, referring to his autobiography)

When a true hero dies, somewhere a little light is extinguished, not to be replaced. Christopher Nolan passed into Glory at the age of 43, and his light was not a mere flicker.

Mr. Nolan was born on a small farm near Dublin in 1966 after a difficult delivery that left him with cerebral palsy, unable to speak or move. His only means of communication was his eye movement. His doctor flatly stated that his brain would remain forever infantile. Chris’ mom, dad and older sister refused to believe that, and for his first 11 years they each played a profound role in Christopher’s life and development. His father would read him novels, short stories, poems, selecting authors from D. H. Lawrence to James Joyce. His mother would string up all the letters of the alphabet on a clothesline in the kitchen and teach him how to read through constant “conversation.” His sister would sing him songs and act out little dramas that would flesh out words, scenes and ideas. Chris’ family stayed the course, as if his mind was like their little family farm, full of seeds growing silently, seeking nourishment.

And then came the harvest. When Chris was 11 years old, a new drug was introduced which ended up freeing one muscle, his neck. That was all Chris needed. They devised a “unicorn stick” that was strapped onto his head, and Chris proceeded to peck one letter at a time on his typewriter while his mother held up his chin. He soon wrote his first poem, “I learn to bow,”, referring to both his method of writing and his gratitude to God for his new life. Chris later wrote what this release felt like… “My mind is like a spin-dryer at full speed, my thoughts fly around my skull while millions of beautiful words cascade down in my lap. Images gunfire across my consciousness and while trying to discipline them I jump in awe at the soul-filled bounty of my mind’s expanse.”

Christopher Nolan went on to complete his first book at the age of 15, Damburst of Dreams, an award-winning collection of his poems, short stories and plays. His autobiography Under the Eye of the Clock was published when he was 21 years old, and won the Book of the Year Award, the Whitbread Prize. Finally, his novel The Banyan Tree was published when he was 33, to much acclaim. He may have been mute his whole life, but his life-giving words and courage reached millions. His body wasn’t ever able to move, but he traveled, through his inspired imagination, to uncharted lands of truth and beauty.

Here’s something I’d like to think about… How do we identify ourselves? How do we define who we are? By our job, by what we can do, or can’t do? By how useful or productive we are in the eyes of our culture? And is this how we define others as well? Christopher’s parents didn’t limit his identity to a disability. Neither did Chris. While not denying his “crippledom,” Chris did not allow that aspect of his life to define his essence or determine his destiny. And he didn’t allow others to limit him to that identity either. Largely because of the self-emptying gifts of his family, he learned to view himself with a wide-angle lens… Made in the image of God, free to enjoy the gift of life, fully blessed and uniquely gifted.

Isn’t it a marvelous thing, that Chris didn’t see his life as tragic? Thomas Reynolds, in his powerful book Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality, put it this way: “Disability should not be construed as a ‘description of life as a tragedy.’ The image of God in human beings remains untarnished by the tragic. Tragedy does not define a person… Disability does not mark an incomplete humanity – a failure, defect or sinful nature. It models one way of being human as vulnerable yet creative, relational, and available.”

The greatest human fact of the universe is that all of us are images of our Creator, all of us are loved by a loving God, regardless of perceived strengths and weaknesses, abilities or disabilities, supposed productivity or lack thereof. Each of us, every person ever born or unborn on planet earth, is equally lovable and profoundly valuable. May that fact be the only dictionary we use if we seek to define ourselves and others. For we know, don’t we, that every person is already defined by the gracious heart of God.

One Reply to “Miracle Drug (2)”

  1. Hi Steve – I’m loving what you’ve been writing and I particularly like these two Miracle Drug ones. We have so much to learn from Christopher Nolan and others like him. Thank you.

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