Gratefulness is demonstrating appreciation to others for what I have and how they have helped me. This means recognizing what others have done for you and showing your gratitude. This kind of positive and thankful attitude makes someone pleasant to be with—especially compared to an ungrateful person who takes things for granted. No matter what your circumstance, you can always find something for which to be grateful.
The two individuals in the following story understand what it is to be grateful in the most unexpected way. One you have heard of and one you haven’t.
The first gentleman, Neil Alexander, wrote a column for the Pittsburg Post Gazette on June 28th, 2014. The second man is the one he wrote about, Lou Gehrig. Gehrig was the first person I thought about when I saw this month’s character trait. Here are Neil’s words:
PITTSBURGH POST GAZETTE
The Next Page: Lou Gehrig’s gift
June 28th, 2014
“In the summer of 2011, when I was 46, I received the kind of news we all dread. The progressive muscle twitching I had experienced for the previous 18 months was diagnosed as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the devastating and fatal condition known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
During the days that followed my diagnosis, my wife, Suzanne, and I mourned the part of our lives that had been taken from us — seeing our children, Abby and Patrick, get married, experiencing the birth of our grandchildren and growing old together. We focused on the awful journey that lay ahead and spent our time preparing for my death.
We learned that ALS is not a kind disease. It attacks the muscles in your body, causing you slowly to lose the use of your hands and arms, your ability to walk and speak and eventually the ability to eat and then breathe. All of this occurs with no cognitive impairment, meaning you remain fully aware of your circumstances, which is why ALS often is referred to as the “glass coffin.”
Not only is there no cure for the disease, but there is no effective treatment. Approximately 30,000 Americans live with ALS today, and most die within three to five years of being diagnosed.
Not many people know what it’s like to be told that you’re going to die and that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to prevent it. It makes you feel cruelly singled out in a way few can understand. Because I never had met anyone who had ALS, I quickly developed an overwhelming urge to learn more about Lou Gehrig.
There is not enough space here to list all of Gehrig’s accomplishments as a baseball player. Nicknamed the “Iron Horse,” Gehrig played first base for the New York Yankees for 16 years, won six World Series championships, appeared in seven All-Star Games, hit 23 career grand slams, and, most notably, played 2,130 consecutive games (a record that held until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it in 1995). Most would agree, however, that Gehrig’s true legacy was forged when he stepped to the microphones in front of a sold-out crowd at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, and publicly acknowledged the disease that would claim his life.
During what is arguably the most famous speech in sports history, Gehrig told the crowd that although he had been given a “bad break,” he still considered himself to be “the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” He said these words even though he knew his career was over, his life had been cut short, and his physical decline would continue. He would die two years later.
I have found that most people have never heard the rest of Gehrig’s speech. He went on to explain that he felt like “the luckiest man” because of certain people in his life. He credited his wife, parents, teammates, managers, fans, opposing players, the groundskeepers and ushers at Yankee Stadium — even his mother-in-law! At a moment when many people would have basked in their own professional accomplishments to mark the end of a stellar career, Gehrig instead chose to use the occasion to show GRATITUDE for how certain people had enriched his life.
This remarkable display of appreciation had a powerful effect on my wife and me after my diagnosis. After struggling for several weeks, we grew weary of the constant focus on our losses. We began to wrestle our minds away from the depressing thoughts and, instead of focusing on what had been taken from us, we made the choice to face the next chapter of our lives from a position of GRATITUDE, appreciating what we still had — two healthy children, a strong marriage and a fantastic circle of family and friends.
There is evidence that GRATITUDE can have measurable benefits, such as higher levels of personal satisfaction, increased happiness and feeling more optimistic about the world and what it has to offer. I would add that GRATITUDE also makes us more likely to help others. In my experience, when you make a conscious choice to appreciate all that you have, big and small, and acknowledge the help you received along the way (something that has become all too rare) you become more likely to help others who may not be as fortunate as you.
This certainly has been the case for our family. We have been so touched by the outpouring of support since my diagnosis that we felt the need to help other families facing this challenging disease. With the mighty Gehrig as our inspiration, we decided to “Live Like Lou” and formed an organization with that name to increase awareness of ALS, raise funds for patient care and support research targeted at finding a cure.
As part of our effort to raise awareness we started a special project called “A Journey of Strength — the Progression of ALS Over Time.” We asked Pittsburgh photographer Duane Rieder to photograph me periodically to show the world the impact this disease has on a body. In these photos, I am wearing T-shirts from different organizations that have had a significant impact on my life. Like Gehrig, I want to express my sincere thanks for the help I have received along the way.
We have found that applying our gratitude in these different ways has resulted in the greatest reward of all for our family. And now, despite the difficult journey we are facing, we regularly feel like the luckiest family on the face of the Earth.
Seventy-five years after Gehrig’s voice echoed through the loudspeakers at Yankee Stadium, his declaration of being the “luckiest man” still serves as a shining example. The practice of GRATITUDE allows you to celebrate what is good and right about the world. Even under the most challenging circumstances, there is so much to be grateful for — if you’re looking.”
Neil Alexander died 9 months later in Ohara Township, PA on March 24th, 2015 at 49 years of age. Over the final 4 years of his life, Mr. Alexander became known as a tireless, passionate, charismatic advocate for all things related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. In addition to his non-profit, “Live Like Lou”, he and his wife created the Iron Horse Award that provides money to children living in families with ALS to help them with expenses like prom, or summer camp. He was responsible for 12.5 million dollars going directly to ALS research.
And, in his spare time, he spoke at private and community events regarding GRATITUDE in the face of life’s challenges.
It’s easy to be GRATEFUL when someone gives you something or does something for you or when you meet with good fortune but the real trick is being GRATEFUL when it’s not so obvious. Look no further than Neil Alexander or Lou Gehrig for a great example of real GRATEFULNESS.