Professor Gordon Stirrat, Chair of the Diocesan House of Laity, reflects on how one person’s challenges have challenged him.

There is nothing I enjoy more on a Saturday morning than going round to the village before breakfast to get croissants and the Times newspaper – unless, of course, Tri-nations rugby is on TV!

As the croissants are heated in the oven my wife and I vie to see who first gets to read the column by Melanie Reid in the Times magazine. This was not always so: indeed, in the past her articles sometimes left me incandescent with rage.

That all changed three months ago when, tragically, Melanie broke her neck and back after falling from a horse. She is now tetraplegic being cared for in a spinal injuries unit in Glasgow. From the very beginning she has produced a weekly “spinal column” that has become a prime focus of our attention on Saturday mornings. No description of mine can do justice to the powerful stories she tells in often intimate detail of how she and her fellow patients strive to do what, for them, were and for most of the rest us still are the most mundane acts.

This week, for example, she describes two “Friday miracles”. The first occurred that morning in the hydrotherapy pool when she managed to raise most of her upper body weight upright out of the pool without support from the physio. In the second she was able for the first time to shift herself from a bench into a wheelchair without a hoist. So little and yet so much in her journey towards her short-term goal of going home under her own steam. She invites us to guess what her long-term goal is!

However, it was her column of 10 July that really hit home! In it she takes issue with the life style priorities portrayed by women’s magazines but her concern is wider than that.

“Nothing”, she writes, “gives you a clearer perspective on society’s obsession with physical disability than a date with spinal paralysis” (or other terrible illness).

“When one is fighting for one’s life or physical identity there is something profoundly alienating about a world that increasingly judges people by their ever-readiness and suitability for sex.” She continues: “It’s nice to look good and be admired but there is absolutely no doubt that when something as catastrophic as paralysis strikes it completely alters your view and your family’s and close friends, of what really matters in life”.

At this point, I could become all “holy” and write of the spiritual significance of this but I am going to resist that temptation. It is, in my view, much more important that each of us draws from her writings what speaks to us about our journey and where we are as individuals.

Last week, she ended by mentioning two fellow patients. One, “a self-employed businessman with a young family who, with paralysis has lost his livelihood, tells me that he regards spinal injury as if his life has stopped, moved a little to the left and then simply carried on. How can anyone do justice to these men’s spirit in face of such adversity?”

That surely applies to you too, Melanie. So may we say thank you so much for sharing this journey with us!!

One thought on “Priorities

  1. Over recent years when my own family life has taken paths that I was not expecting, our moto has become ‘It is not what life throws at you that matters but the way in which you deal with it’ and that certainly seems true of Melanie.

    Thank you Gordon for sharing this with us – it brought a tear to my eye.