How can a shocking rush of icy water help those suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease? “At first I thought it was ridiculous,” said my daughter Casey. “What if people just dump water over their heads and don’t give any money? But the thing is, they are giving money.” The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has swept Facebook, and to some degree the nation, raising $100 million as of today, according to the Forbes website.
Casey and I were driving to her apartment when she described these initial impressions. Her boyfriend PJ was waiting with a bucket of water and a bag of ice, for my daughter had been challenged and was ready to take up the gauntlet, douse herself, donate, and pass it on.
When we arrived, Casey ran upstairs to change into a tee shirt and shorts, then returned to the driveway where PJ, my husband, Dave, and I waited. While the men held up their phones to video, Casey stood with feet planted, a wide grin on her face, and a stainless steel bucket of ice and water in her hands. Formally, she thanked her friend Amanda for the challenge and passed it on to several of her co-workers before upending the bucket over her head with a triumphant shriek. Fun to watch; pleased it wasn’t me. One more reason to be glad I’m not on Facebook.
What a crazy idea. The glee it gives me is reminiscent of that induced in the seventies by the streaking fad. I remember squeals and laughter shattering the scholarly silence as a troop of naked students with underwear over their heads pranced through the college library. While no donations were given, it was silly and fun in the midst of somber times of war, the draft, and social upheaval, a gift of goofiness that seemed a momentary release of breath long held.
How I wish we’d learned more in the forty years intervening, but the news continues to be soul-crushing: a young black man shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., an American journalist beheaded by ISIS terrorists, the mid-East wrenched by brutality and conflict. One could lose all faith in our ability to cooperate, care, and act with kindness in the wake of these acts and the resulting grief and sense of helplessness. And then, along comes an opportunity to help sufferers of a terrible disease through this loony challenge from friend to friend, colleague to colleague, and sister to sister. For a few days after Casey’s ice bath, my daughter called and said, “Did you know Francie, Matt, and Campbell challenged you and Dad on Facebook?”
Sigh. My sister Francie, her husband, and son had taken the challenge and named us as their successors. Initially we thought we’d just make the donation, but then a friend’s eight-year-old boy, yet another PJ, accepted the challenge himself and passed it on to Dave. That we could not ignore.
So we donned bathing suits, sat side-by-side on a stonewall, and enlisted our almost-four-years-old grand-niece, Ava, to help us. She waited for the thumbs-up signal from camera-woman Casey and tossed a cup of water on our heads to start us off. As tradition dictates, we thanked our challengers, and called on our son, Tucker, and nephews, Trevor and Christopher, to carry on. With muscles tense and teeth gritted, we dumped the ice-filled buckets over our heads, and I couldn’t help but beam, happy to be part of this goofy chain of gift-givers.
I think of Philip Simmons, author of the inspirational book Learning to Fall who passed away from ALS. I think of my college classmate Ben Brewster, a tall, robust, rower who also died of the disease. And I think of Lou Gehrig himself. What would they think of this freezing flurry of glee and giving? I have to think they’d love it.