How would you like for your body to weaken for no reason and become unable to do simple things you once could; where you stumble and fall just jogging; to have your weakness on display to the world so everyone sees you deteriorate; then to find out your body will continue weakening until you can’t use your arms and legs or any other muscles, and that you’ll die in a few years?
Would you feel lucky? Do you think you could if you wanted to?
Lou Gehrig did.
If you’ve never read or heard the speech he gave on retiring from baseball on July 4, 1939, you’ll see his ability to create his beliefs at work. Some might say of course he feels lucky as one of the greatest baseball players of all time, an American icon, being honored by other American icons. Actually, I can’t imagine anyone that cynical, but if anyone does feel that way, remember that for whatever his past, he knew he would die soon, young, after watching his body deteriorate uncontrollably and nothing from his past could help.
Here is his speech. Though the parts I made bold have become American history, he spoke spontaneously and unprepared. His simple words communicated pure emotion and honesty.
Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift — that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body — it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.
Whatever your problems in life, you probably would prefer them to having a disease where your body deteriorates so you can’t function as a human until you die in a few years. Whatever Gehrig’s athletic abilities, they helped nothing fighting the disease, nor did they tell him anything more about how to understand his death.
What he could do — to define and choose for himself how he wanted to see his life — anyone could do. Hitting home runs doesn’t make death fun or teach you how to create beliefs any more than what you do in your life. And if he could make this disease make him feel not just lucky, but the luckiest man on the face of the Earth, I suggest you can make your challenges contribute to feeling just as great. Why not?
Incidentally, according to Wikipedia’s page on Gehrig, after he spoke
The crowd stood and applauded for almost two minutes. Gehrig was visibly shaken as he stepped away from the microphone, and wiped the tears away from his face with his handkerchief. Babe Ruth came over and hugged him as a band played “I Love You Truly” and the crowd chanted “We love you, Lou.” The New York Times account the following day called it “one of the most touching scenes ever witnessed on a ball field”, that made even hard-boiled reporters “swallow hard.”
Two videos of him:
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