A co-worker and I were sitting around the other day, and we started talking about the death of Dana Reeve, the wife of the late actor Christopher Reeve, who survived for 10 years after being paralyzed in a horse-riding accident.
During the course of the conversation about their deaths and how unfair it all seemed, my co-worker asked something unintentionally profound: “Do you think she would have married him if she knew what was going to happen to him three years later?”
The question was like a lightning bolt out of the blue, because although the answer seems obvious at first, it does make you wonder.
How many of us would willingly marry someone if we knew, before going through with the ceremony, that our spouse-to-be would shortly require 10 years of round-the-clock nursemaid duty before dying, leaving us alone with a young child? And that after 10 years of selfless care for our spouse, we would die 18 months later?
True, I had never heard Dana Reeve publicly complain about her situation, But honestly, if she had known the implications of her choice before marrying Christopher, would she have gone ahead with the marriage anyway?
After all, if she was in position to marry one famous actor, how hard would it have been to find another instead, resulting in a similarly privileged but much less tragic life? That doesn’t seem like a stretch, based on the way many of our most famous get around, dating and discarding each other like so many bags of crunchy Cheetos.
From a purely romantic perspective, I would like to believe their story was one of true love, of two lives bound together for better and for worse, in sickness and in health. But again, that rationale applies nearly and easily after the fact; what if she had known the future beforehand?
To a certain extent and for certain circumstances, it’s no different for us.
For example, statistically speaking, 102 people are going to die tomorrow in an automobile accident in this country. All of us who are going to be in an automobile tomorrow run the risk of being one of those unlucky 102; but since there are about 300 million of us in that lottery, does that knowledge really affect our behavior?
But instead of those relatively slim odds, suppose I told you that tomorrow, you were going to be one of the 102 victims unless you radically altered your life: married someone different, got a different job, didn’t have the same kids, and on and on.
What if you could completely control whether you were going to die in an automobile accident tomorrow, but it was at the cost of changing your entire life?
It’s an interesting question, all right. I’m just not sure I want to know the answer.