Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Fourth of July, Lou Gehrig, and Bad Breaks

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, the date on which we celebrate the brave men who gathered in a quiet Philadelphia room in 1776 and, with no fanfare or crowd adulation, risked their lives to sign a parchment that declared that the United States would no longer bend to the tyranny of distant oppressive authorities. We owe our collective freedom to these selfless men, and we should be thinking of them as we barbeque and swim on Independence Day.

One hundred sixty-three years after that world-changing historical event, a hundred and three miles up the highway, a lone brave man stood before thousands of people on that memorable summer day in New York and made a declaration of a different kind. Lou Gehrig had just learned that he had a disease that would eventually steal his career, his movement and his life. Bravely he took to the field to convey personally his farewell message to his teammates and their fans.

Major League Baseball put together this video, pulling together players from rival baseball teams, to honor the 75th anniversary of Gehrig's "Luckiest Man" speech.

One cannot help but feel the emotion as Gehrig bravely took to the microphone to effectively tell his fans that he was dying. But his humility and gratitude are what will be remembered from his short two-minute speech. How painful and emotional it must have been for him to utter those initial two sentences: "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."

Yes, the "Iron Horse" was human. How devastating that must have been for Yankees fans. My own father, who passed away in 1995, was a Yankees fan. He was only 8 1/2 years old when Gehrig made his farewell speech. I do not know if he heard it live when Gehrig gave the speech. It is unlikely, since Dad lived on a farm in the country and was secluded from everyday goings-on. But he certainly knew of Gehrig's bravery and his influence on the sport that is called "America's pasttime." I suspect that there are many current Yankees' fans who follow in the footsteps of fathers and grandfathers who remembered first hand the "Luckiest Man" speech and the honorable man who spoke the words that warm July 4th of 1939.

What about the rest of us? Even now, Gehrig's speech makes us face our mortality and put things in perspective. The disease that would claim his life less than two years after he said goodbye to baseball would also take his name -- Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS - amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Gehrig was 17 days shy of his 38th birthday when the Lord took him home to Heaven.

Gehrig's immortal words should be a guide for all of us as we face growing turmoil and division in this country that we love so much. Despite the frustration and anger and bickering and judgment, we should all remember how Gehrig ended his remarkable speech. "So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for." And so do all Americans.

May God bless each of us on our Nation's 238th birthday, and may God bless the United States of America.

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