In the last several weeks, the latest viral internet craze, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, has resulted in an massive outpouring of donations to a more than worthy cause, and a flurry of mildly amusing YouTube videos to boot. In terms of internet trends, it’s actually rather…well, cool and refreshing!
But as always, the trolls are out. Which is fine, we need skeptics and contrarians out there. But in this instance, they’re wrong.
Let’s set the table here: ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative condition that effects the brain and spinal cord. The motor neurons that initiate muscle movement in the body gradually die off, leading to progressive paralysis, and eventually death.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge occurs when you challenge someone to either donate money (usually $100) to the ALS Association, or dump a big bucket of ice water over their head. Since the beginning of August, the internet has been flooded (no pun intended) with videos of both average joes and celebs dousing themselves with water. The publicity has brought the ALS Association, $13.3 million (as of August 17) in donations, compared to the $1.7 million they received at the same time last year.
Naysayers have called out the Ice Bucket Challenge for essentially prompting Americans to celebrate the notion of not giving money to a charity. Hey, fair point. While many are indeed dousing themselves AND making a donation, it’d be foolish to think that a lot of us aren’t doing it simply for fun. And let’s certainly not rule out false boasting, narcissism, and flat out stupidity. Make no mistake, it’s a lot easier to pretend to be charitable than to actually be charitable. Plus, there are a lot of countries in dire need of all that clean water.
But in spite of all that, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge gets a pass from me. And here’s why…
Several years ago, I was working for a small regional newspaper. One summer, around this time of year, I was dispatched to do a story on the Les Turner ALS Walk for Life, a Chicago area event that raises money for ALS patient care. When I got the assignment I had never heard of the event, and had no knowledge about ALS.
Then I met Len, and his wife Sarah. At the time, Len was confined to a wheelchair and was only able to move his head, neck, and left arm. They were very open about what they’d gone through, especially considering I was such a young reporter, let alone a complete stranger. Len told me about being forced to leave his job, the trip to Hawaii he and Sarah had taken once they learned about his ALS (a last vacation of sorts), and how his body had gradually broken down. He did, however, tell me with pride that he was able to stand up at his daughter’s wedding, despite having extremely limited use of his legs.
When the interview was over, and Sarah had left the room to get something, Len and I small talked for a minute. In all honesty, I don’t remember what the topic was. But then, as we could hear Sarah coming back, he thanked me for my time, and said eight words I don’t think will ever leave me…
“I just try not to think about tomorrow.”
He started to choke up a bit. But he fought it back.
Len is gone now, but I’ve thought about him quite a bit over the years. I can’t even imagine what must have been going through his mind when we talked, or Sarah’s for that matter. It sounds incredibly corny when you put it into words, but what kind of strength do you imagine needs to be mustered to face something like that? Even all these years later, I can’t even begin to comprehend it.
Sarah still participates in the ALS Walk for Life with her team “Len’s Den.” Through the wonders of internet stalking, I discovered they have a Facebook page. On August 15, Sarah posted a message, and signed off with: “Keep those ice buckets coming!”
So I’m okay with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. As a member of the human race, I’m willing to bear whatever idiocy or ingenuity arises from it. Because $13.3 million is a lot of money. You can’t treat ALS with money, but you can with what put the money there: Generosity, compassion, human decency, and the willingness to take action.
I guess the moral of the story here is that sometimes, you have to be willing to take the bad with the good. Is this ice bucket thing a little over the top? Absolutely. Does it expose America’s bizarre fascination with stupid YouTube videos? Of course it does. But it’s got people talking about donating to charity, and the ALS Foundation has reaped great benefits from it. I’ll take that trade off.
Front page image from sammy-riggs.com. Image 1 from centralaz.com. Image 2 from time.com. Image 3 from time.com.
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