Lou Gehrig: The stricken hero was ‘The Luckiest Man …’

By BENJAMIN PRATT

THIS WEEK, as millions of us celebrate Independence Day—Americans also are remembering an inspiring moment that happened 75 years ago in New York City, when a man stricken with a disorder that eventually would kill him declared himself, “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth.” As I am publishing this column, fresh news stories about this anniversary are popping up in newspapers nationwide—from the Wall Street Journal to Newsday.

Once rivals, on July 4, 1939, Babe Ruth enthusiastically hugged Lou Gehrig, who had announced he was dying and at the same time declared himself "The Luckiest Man."

Once rivals, on July 4, 1939, Babe Ruth enthusiastically hugged Lou Gehrig, who had announced he was dying and at the same time declared himself “The Luckiest Man.”

The man who made that declaration was Lou Gehrig, “The Iron Horse”—first baseman for the Yankees in the 1920s and 1930s, when baseball was by far the most popular sport in America. He earned his nickname for the strength and endurance he showed throughout his career. Gehrig played 2,130 games in a row from 1925 to 1939. He had a .340 career batting average with 493 home runs. He drove in more than 100 runs in 13 consecutive seasons.

In 1939, at age 36, everything changed for Lou Gehrig. In the spring he lacked energy, looked thinner and less confident at first base and in the batter’s box. His performance was so poor that he removed himself from the Yankee lineup. He went to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where he was diagnosed with amyotropic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the rare, debilitating disease that attacks the body’s nervous system. It was eventually called Lou Gehrig’s disease. So Gehrig, one of our country’s most revered sportsmen, knew he would become more and more helpless.

That summer, Gehrig agreed to go public with his diagnosis. His fans clamored for a way to show their love for him. That groundswell led to the July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day and a special program between the first and second games of a double header. Gehrig was surrounded by his Yankee teammates, including his former rival Babe Ruth. They were joined by their friends once known as “Murderers’ Row”—for the ruthless power that Yankees lineup showed in the 1927 World Series. The festivities included the retirement of Gehrig’s Number 4.

When Gehrig himself stood before the microphones, he began:

“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.”

Gehrig turned to thank his many friends in baseball, concluding: “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.”

But then Gehrig did something unusual. He talked about his family—the people who would become his circle of caregivers. He started by poking fun at his wife and mother-in-law: “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.”

He ended his brief talk this way: “I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”

The crowd applauded for two minutes!

Many friends rushed to offer Gehrig new roles that this great star might fill in his waning years. The only one Gehrig accepted was an appointment by New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to serve in a special post granting parole to some of the city’s more deserving prisoners. Gehrig refused to allow any media coverage of his work, in this role, but he did pay many visits to correctional facilities to help prisoners who might deserve paroles.

He never complained. “Don’t think I am depressed or pessimistic about my condition,” he said at one point.

Then, just shy of two years after his Appreciation Day, on June 2, 1941, Gehrig was gone.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM ‘THE LUCKIEST MAN’?

Benjamin Pratt cover Guide for CaregiversNo, none of us is Lou Gehrig. No one could be. But consider this …

When I was interviewing for my book, Guide For Caregivers, I constantly heard from caregivers about the remarkable people they were serving—and about the sense of purpose and courage they shared in facing tough odds. Many caregivers across our nation understand the kind of attitude Lou Gehrig expressed 75 years ago.

One of the most moving statements I heard, in my research, was from the father of his disabled son, who came home wounded from his military service. Here are just a few of that father’s words to me:

“Since my son got wounded I have often thought how I wish we could get our life back—you know, as it was—comfortable, simple, and familiar. And, I often felt angry or jealous, as well as guilty, for thinking I wanted my life back. …

“But, the unexpected just happens to us and we are coping. We are on the front line—in the trenches—all day—every day. This is our life … and our lives have to be lived as best we can. Our son was doing his job when that damn bomb went off. None of us will ever get back to the life we had.

“One thing feels pretty strange to me now—I’ve never felt more like I have a reason to stay alive than I do now.”

No, this proud father never called himself the world’s “luckiest man.” But I do know that he is deeply grateful and his life is full of purpose.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Why caregiving is fuel for ‘church growth’

By the Rev. Dr. BENJAMIN PRATT
Author of The Guide for Caregivers

Benjamin Pratt cover Guide for Caregivers

CLICK the cover to visit the bookstore.

When I talk to groups of clergy and lay people, many of them are surprised to hear that expanding their caregiving ministries is in their own self interest. It’s true!

Most often, I’m talking to Christian groups, where “church growth” is always a No. 1 concern. But, the principles I share with groups (and in my book) are effective in fueling “congregational growth” in general. So take today’s column to heart, as well, if you are part of a synagogue, temple or mosque.

Here’s a prime example: On a recent Saturday morning, I helped to present a public forum drawing on my book, A Guide For Caregivers. A United Methodist congregation hosted the event and promoted it to the interfaith community and the general public. Weary caregivers from all parts of the community gratefully attended—and kept the interchange going more than an hour longer than planned! Tears and laughter flooded the room as we all shared our different stories.

Gratitude to the United Methodist church for hosting this event was effusive. Members of that congregation told me that they were getting involved in this kind of outreach because they realized they have been under-serving the needs of caregivers in their own community. They resolved to seek new and creative ways to support caregivers and care receivers.

Convince your congregation to get involved

For this special column, I invited friends to help me make the case that caregiving is, indeed, fuel for congregational growth.

ReadTheSpirit Editor DAVID CRUMM, this week, was the emcee of an annual one-day conference in southeast Michigan for religious and health-care leaders to hear from experts about the importance of collaborating on health and caregiving. One of the first questions David got from religious leaders was: How can we convince people that this is central to our religious mission?

United Methodist website on caregivers helping families of disabled veterans

CLICK this thumbnail image to visit a United Methodist website, where a recent article reports on the widespread needs of American families caring for disabled veterans. The denomination’s founder, John Wesley, taught that healthcare should be a high priority in congregational life.

David told the crowd …

“Anyone who tells you that our congregations aren’t in the business of health and wellness doesn’t know much about the history of the great Abrahamic faiths. Judaism and Islam have ancient codes for health and wellness. For Christians, Jesus spent more time on health concerns than almost any other issue. There wouldn’t be modern hospitals today without the mission of the Catholic church centuries ago. And United Methodists who hesitate to get involved? They should remember that their founder John Wesley (1703-1791) felt so strongly about meeting the health-care needs of parishioners that he wrote a medical handbook (published in 1747) to aid the countless families in his era who could not afford medical care.”

MARTIN DAVIS, a contributor to this online magazine and head of SLC: Sacred Language Communications, consults with congregations and often hears the objection: “I don’t have time for one more program!”

Martin sent these thoughts to share with you …

I hear that objection from overburdened church leaders, who are stressed and yet feel the pressure to add more ministries: feeding programs, energy programs, education programs, healthcare programs, music programs, outreach programs—and on and on. The problem comes when church leaders contemplate “programs” they must fund, support with volunteers and administer—rather than focusing on the core mission of their faith communities.

Health care is a prime example. The Parish Nursing movement is a good and powerful program that emerged in the 1970s that is today growing, especially among larger congregations with resources to hire parish nurses. But my message to congregations is: You don’t need to hire a parish nurse to provide care. Caregiving is as basic as “love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s that simple.

LDS Mormon website page on caregiving and disability resources

CLICK this thumbnail image to visit the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints website covering a wide range of disability concerns to help caregivers within the Mormon church. Within this website, individual pages look at common issues in various kinds of physical and mental health.

And, yes, energizing your congregation to take caregiving seriously also is complicated. That is … if you want to provide effective care and really touch lives in your community.

Over the years, I have been impressed by the way the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) incorporates many levels of caregiving into daily life in Mormon congregations. They accomplish this through several smart policies: 1. They keep their congregations (called wards) small, so that people get to know one another. 2. They stress that we are God’s hands and feet on earth as much as they stress the life to come. 3. They embrace the practice of genuinely caring for one’s neighbors, from regular home visits to assistance with job placement and even emergency stocks of food.

If a family member loses a job, the community knows and rallies to support that person—and their family—to right the ship. And if illness strikes, the community is there to provide whatever support is required. And, they do this without professional clergy or paid staff. They do this out of a commitment to one another born of a deep faith in God.

As I write this, you should know: I’m not Mormon myself and I’m not suggesting the LDS church is better than all others. But, I am suggesting that their orientation is solid: Faith in God animates action in this life, because we are the feet and hands of God on this earth.

Is caregiving fuel for “church growth”? Just look at the statistics on growth in the LDS church!

Care to read more?

KEEP IN TOUCH WITH WE ARE CAREGIVERS: Our online magazine regularly reports on caregiving issues, sharing ideas and inspiration from various authors and experts. Click on the link in the upper right corner for “updates by email” and be sure you are receiving our free email alerts to new stories. Among the past We Are Caregivers columns you’ll find useful:

BEST-SELLING AUTHORS URGE CONGREGATIONS TO GET INVOLVED: While you’re signing up for our email newsletters, be sure to get our weekly ReadTheSpirit newsletter, sent out each Monday afternoon. That way you won’t miss our trademark author interviews, which often touch on caregiving. Among our most popular author interviews on this subject:

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

 

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The cry of the disabled caregiver: “I’m not a good patient!”

“I lay ill through several weeks, and the usual tenor of my life became like an old remembrance. But this was not the effect of time so much as of the change in all my habits made by the helplessness and inaction of a sick-room. My housekeeping duties, though at first it caused me great anxiety to think that they were unperformed, were soon as far off as the oldest of the old duties. … I had never known before how short life really was and into how small a space the mind can put it.”
Esther in Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

“Step 1 of learning to walk in the dark is to give up running the show. Next you sign a waiver that allows you to bump into some things that may frighten you at first.”
Barbara Brown Taylor in Learning to Walk in the Dark

By BENJAMIN PRATT,
author of Guide for Caregivers

Hair Pulling StressHave you lived through this reversal of roles? As a caregiver, you suddenly find yourself in the role of care-receiver!

You’ve probably raised the cry of the disabled caregiver: “I’m not a good patient!”

Read my story—and you’re likely to nod your head. It was a serious problem involving one of my feet that flipped the roles in our household: My wife Judith, who has occasional periods of disability, suddenly was caring for me! I freely admit that I’m a bad patient, primarily because of my im-patience. And, if I’m honest, my pride.

One day, when Judith slipped out of the house to buy a few groceries, I was nestled in my chair, reading. I was under strict orders from my doctor and my caregiver-wife to stay off my feet. So, as she departed, I was fixed in the chair, foot elevated to reduce the persistent swelling from my recent surgery and a four-month-long infection.

When she returned, she went about tucking goodies into the pantry and refrigerator. She slipped in a wry comment, “I see you had a visitor while I was gone. It was so nice of whomever to wash the few dishes in the sink.”

I sucked air, shuffled and hurumphed, saying, “I stood on one leg while I washed those dishes.”

“So, you hopped over here on one leg?” she retorted.

“I can’t stand, pun intended, not doing my share of housekeeping duties.”

Again she retorted with a wry grin, “Guess what? This is one more day you are not going to receive a smiley face sticker!”

This was one of the lighter, more playful exchanges over recent days. I have not transitioned well from being a caregiver to being a care receiver. I have been obstinate, willful, sometimes making her my enemy and not my friend. This switch of roles has forced me to examine my motivations and my behavior.

I reluctantly confess how proudly I identified as a caregiver. The role fit my persona and reinforced my sense of purpose and identity. I invested so much of myself in that role that I became too proud to receive care. I am facing the reality that I resisted letting another love and care for me. I have been boldly confronted with my stubbornness and resistance to love and grace. I have selfishly held on to being only a giver; resisted being a receiver. I definitely need to accept, even encourage, another’s gift of care.

I have been a patient a few times in my life but never for the duration nor gravity of this occasion. When I was in my early thirties, I broke both my arms at the same time and was totally helpless for a month. This four month stint of infection, out of control blood pressure, and finally a surgery (and possibly another ahead), undergirded with the reality of my age, has thrust the life questions of health, mobility, place of residence and purpose of life all center and forefront. Oh, and did I mention, aging comes at a most inconvenient time!

Over the years, I have used my imagination to foster empathy and compassion as a caregiver. It is clear to me now that my imagination has lacked what only living the experience of patient can teach. Imagination pictures that living with a wounded foot makes one or two vertical steps seem like a hill. Actually living with a wounded foot can make one step feel like stepping across the Grand Canyon.

Then, a week ago, journalist David Briggs—who reports on new research for the Association of Religion Data Archives—posted a column on a new study making this very point: “In a culture that prizes rugged individualism, and can interpret personal needs as a sign of weakness, many Americans find it is more acceptable to give than to receive. Yet the blessings appear to multiply when you are able to do both, according to new research. Americans who both meet the needs of others and are cared for in a nurturing community are much more likely to love and trust their neighbors.”

The research makes sense, doesn’t it?

Sitting where the other sits is surely the best way to foster our empathy and compassion. If only every preacher would sit in the pew; every jailer behind the bars; every wealthy person roam the streets at night; every white be a person of color; every man, a woman; every caregiver, a patient—we might become a more hospitable world.

I’m still a bad patient—but I am starting to feel more grateful for my experience. How about you? What’s your experience?

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‘Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?’

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Have you had one of these conversations?

A colleague and I were talking about our parents a couple of weeks ago, swapping stories about our fathers. Hers has been declining for years, but a fresh episode was troubling her. My father passed away last year. As we talked, the stories began to sound like—well, they began to sound like things we shouldn’t even say out loud. We were talking honestly. If you’re a veteran caregiver, you can fill in the rest of this story. You know right away the troubling kinds of issues we were discussing.

Roz Chast book cover Cant We Talk About Something More Pleasant

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

It was a good talk! We laughed. We felt better.

As we were getting ready to leave, I said, “These are the things that no one talks about, but really should.”

Fast forward a week or so and I found myself listening to an interview with Roz Chast on NPR. She became the sole caretaker of her two elderly parents and she shares both the pain of this process and the laughter (and, yes, there is laugher, too). I immediately related to her new book: Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? A Memoir. That link takes you right to Amazon, but if you want to listen to Roz on NPR, you’ll find two different interviews: Here’s the All Things Considered interview; and here’s the Fresh Air interview.

I find myself thoroughly relating to much of Roz’s book. Told in a way that only a cartoonist can, I am getting great relief from enjoying another person’s tale of life in my shoes. In her memoir, Roz certainly dares to tell the often unspoken “rest of the story.”

So this week my recommendation is: Check it out and let us know what you think.

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On Mother’s Day: Make time for Mom to make time

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

On Mother’s Day, we like to turn Mom into Queen for a Day. We buy flowers, go to church, cook dinner and generally spoil Mom for one day. That is wonderful.

However, I have a different gift idea for Mother’s Day this year. It doesn’t cost any money, but I believe it could be considered invaluable to the Mom who receives it.

This year, what about giving Mom the gift of caring for herself?

Stay with me here … I regularly work with women who have cancer and, as a general rule, Moms are especially prone to neglecting themselves. Women feel guilty if they take time for themselves. This refusal to care for oneself can be elevated to the level of martyrdom—as if there is a prize for the greatest self sacrifice.

Tea CupWhile most Moms would never allow their children out the door in the morning without breakfast, many Moms don’t think twice about skipping breakfast—or other meals. Does that sound like a busy Mom or Grandma you know?

You can help change this pattern, this year for Mother’s Day. While many Moms won’t take time for themselves—they’re likely to do it if their family makes the time.

You know what what your Mom might like:

  • A regular meal “out” with family
  • A weekly time to work in the yard together
  • Assurance that she can make it to her church or club or community group—or even her hairdresser
  • An evening of playing cards
  • Simply a time to share tea or coffee and talk in an unhurried way
  • Maybe none of these; perhaps something else

This year on Mother’s Day, tell Mom that you care about her and that you would like her to spend some of her time in the next year doing things that would help her feel good. Tell her you want her to do this—and tell her you’ll help ensure this happens.

What I have come to know over the years is this: Taking time to care for myself makes me a better caregiver. It also helps to ensure that I will be able to care for years to come.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Simple Gifts: Seeing opportunities to humbly help

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

WELCOME BACK the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt, author of the Guide for Caregivers. Today, Ben brings us another thought-provoking column about the challenges we all face in helping others. Recently, ReadTheSpirit published an in-depth interview with the famous teacher on compassion and peacemaking, Johann Christoph Arnold. In that Q&A, Arnold said that the key to happiness as we age is finding daily opportunities to help others. Today, in a free-verse poem, Ben simply captures a trio of such moments in a typical day. He starts by recalling the 1848 Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts, by Joseph Brackett:

When true simplicity is gain’d
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d
To turn, turn ‘twill be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Simple Gratitude for Simple Gifts

By BENJAMIN PRATT

I.
A Praying Mantis in the wildHe is old
uses a cane
bent over and slow
takes all he has to climb into the city bus
Takes the only seat left
Others fill the aisle—hanging from the loops
The bus jerks forward
He searches each pocket, jacket, pants, and shirt
His nose is running, now dripping—
but nothing to wipe it
Across the crowded aisle, I reach into my pocket
where I always carry napkins
I slide some toward him
across the aisle
between the legs of standers
He takes the napkins
wipes his nose—never looks my way
I know he’s grateful
if a bit ashamed
I know because I’ve been there.

II.
How she managed two shopping carts
we do not know
She loads the rear of her SUV
with food and drinks
Stuffs her small child in his car seat
Ready to go?
No!
Two carts to return with:
Child waiting. Car unlocked. Groceries piled.
My wife sees her predicament
“I’ll take your carts back.”
“Oh, thank you. Thank you!”
Relief
As she drives away,
she rolls down her window:
“Oh, thank you. Thank you!”

III.
She is hanging upside down
inside the window screen
She looks puzzled, trapped, chagrined—
her ET-like eyes
overwhelming her small head
bobbing on her long, slender, mint-green body
I’m certain she is a she—
her regal head contentedly nodding,
despite her obvious predicament
I slip a cupped white paper under her
The queen slowly steps forward
entering her carriage
“Welcome Madame.”
She is deferential to her new footman
I escort her outside
where she slowly exits her carriage
onto an hydrangea leaf
She pauses as she turns
and with the slightest nod of her head
she acknowledges her new footman.

.

(FEEL FREE to share this column with friends. You can do so by using the blue-“f” Facebook icons or the small envelope-shaped email icons. You also are free to reproduce or repost this poem, as long as you credit Benjamin Pratt and www.ReadTheSpirit.com)

CARE TO READ MORE FROM BENJAMIN PRATT?

The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a noted expert on compassionate care and is the author of Guide for Caregivers.

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From the Earth to the Moon: Look up! What do YOU see?

Big Moon photo by Jose Cabajar via Wikimedia Commons

LOOK UP!

We just passed through the full moon this weekend—and it’s still pretty big right now.

What do you see?

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

I always dread a full moon. Not dread in the same way I dread taxes or being sick, but a general dislike all the same. I don’t sleep as well during a full moon, I’m sure of it. Having worked in schools and nursing homes I have heard many people swear that full moons affect behavior. I have said it myself.

So just for my own entertainment, with that great big full moon shining down on us, I decided to see what I could find out about full moons affecting behavior. When I looked it up on Google I found many articles but nothing that really substantiated my thought. Wikipedia itself serves up a very mixed bag of reports on lunar effects.

Then, I ran across Dr. Eric Chudler, who teaches at the University of Washington in Seattle and is the executive director of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering. His expertise is in psychology and he has collected a lot of data in a website he calls “Moonstruck!

We’re certainly going to be hearing a whole lot about the Moon over the coming year. In January, National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm hosted a program about space exploration, including a plan for developing property rights on the Moon by Bigelow Aerospace (a manufacturer of modules for survival in outer space). This summer is the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Next year is the 150th anniversary of the novel that touched off the modern era of space exploration: Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon.

TODAY, I’m inviting you—our readers, especially the caregivers among us—to comment below or to share your thoughts with me on my Facebook page.

Caregivers are on the front lines of human behavior. What have you seen?

Do you think there’s something to lunar effects? To the influence of the Full Moon?

Come on! LOOK UP! What do you see?

Earth and Sun from the Moon perspective

IMAGES TODAY: At top is a beautiful photo of the moon by photographer Jose B. Cabajar, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons. The second photo comes from the imagery created for the 1968 movie by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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