Monday, August 9, 2010

When Fear Knocks on the Door

"I weave a parachute out of everything broken."
   --William Stafford

Patricia Neal has left the stage and the curtain has closed a final time. She died August 8 in Edgartown, Massachusetts. She was 84. My, my what a life she lived.

She left Knoxville, Tennessee where she had grown up and went to Northwestern University and finally made it to the New York stage. Many young folk might not remember Patricia Neal but she graced the theatre as few could do. Her story is worth telling.

In the early sixties she suffered a series of tragedies. One day in New York she was pushing her five month old son in his carriage across a street when a taxi stuck the child. He suffered severe brain damage from that accident. In 1962 her seven year old daughter, Olivia came down with encephalitis and died that same night. Finally getting back to work in 1965 Patricia had three massive strokes which left her paralyzed on one side and her speech seriously impaired. She was 39 years old. It took her a year with her husband’s coaxing to slowly begin to relearn basic skills. Patricia Neal never gave up.

In 1968 she was nominated for an Oscar for her splendid performance in The Subject was Roses. I never will forget seeing Patricia in that film. She took all her pain and fused it into a moving portrayal of a desperate wife and mother in a crumbling family. After her come back she also won three Emmy nominations.

She told her story in her autobiography, As I Am. In 1978 the Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville dedicated the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in her honor. The 72-bed facility has been nationally recognized for its rehabilitation of patients with stroke, spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries. Patricia continued to be an advocate for persons with debilitating conditions.

She was interviewed by a newspaper columnist several years ago in Windsor, England. . They sat at old inn and she talked about her life and her experiences that day. On one of the beams above the fireplace someone had carved one line in copperplate. It read: “Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there.” She looked at the plaque for a long time and then said, “That’s beautiful. The kind of thing you hope you never forget.I guess I have faith—but I don’t think much about it.”

Nothing seemed to stop her from coming back from tragedy after tragedy. Her life taught us about the stubborn, stubborn wonder of the human spirit even after near-impossible adversity. So the curtain has come down for a final time for Patricia Neal. Don’t we all owe her a standing ovation? I think so.

1 comment:

  1. I agree! Maybe Saint Peter will stand up as Patricia Neal walks through the gates.