Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien

36 minutes 7.0/10 based on 2 votes

In the words of Mark O’Brien, “The two mythologies about disabled people break down to one: we can’t do anything, or two: we can do everything. But the truth is, we’re just human.”

Born on July 31st 1949, he was the eldest child in the family. Mark remembers clearly having an intense pain in his belly on the night he contracted polio, a crippling disease caused by a virus. He recalls being taken to the hospital, but by the time he woke up from the coma, his life was completely changed and he went from being a happy energetic little boy to being paralyzed and needing an iron lung to breathe.

His parents decided to take him home anyway, because the life expectancy at nursing homes was only about 18 months. O’Brien states that this is what saved his life. He had a younger sister who was born two years after him, who died from pneumonia at a young age. Ironically, Mark never thought he would outlive her.

His parents were aging so at the age of 27 he moved from their home in Sacramento into the Fairmont Hospital where he lived for two years. Mark calls them as being the worse two years of his life.

He then moved on campus to Berkeley where he completed his studies.

O’Brien is a published journalist and poet, and a frequent contributor to National Public Radio. For more than forty years, he has fought against this illness and against society’s conflicting perceptions of disability. He has stood up against bureaucracy to earn the right to lead an independent life. This documentary presents an honest and intimate look into the life of a strong beautiful man who happens to be disabled. It incorporates the vivid imagery of O’Brien’s poetry, and his candid yet profound reflections on work, sex, death and God. By the end of this film you too will ask the question: what is it that makes a life worth living?

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