In sickness and in A.L.S.
“Why did I divorce him? He didn’t like the film Frozen.” That’s a true statement made some months ago by a woman who was looking for an excuse to end her ‘inconvenient’ marriage.
On a different continent, another couple was unable to decide who was going to have the $40-worth of groceries left in their refrigerator during divorce proceedings, essentially spending $1,000 on mediation lawyers over a jar of peanut butter.
Despite these modern-day tales, all is still well in the world of marriage when you read the story of Pete Frates, the Boston baseball player and the mind behind the ice bucket challenge, who was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) in 2012 at the age of 27. Frates fell in love with a blonde bombshell, just eight months before his neurologist told him he would eventually choke to death on his own oesophagus.
Anyone who has read Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie will remember the reflective wisdom shared by sociology professor Morrie Schwartz during his final years of ALS. The death sentence that cannot be appealed came to Frates too young and yet, just like Schwartz, his focus shifted to the things that really count: legacy, love, life and values.
Although the social wave of charitable donation has blasted the universe in what could be the greatest fundraising stint in history, I look behind the financial tsunami against ALS. I look at the story of a girl, Julie, who fell in love with a former athlete, and chose to love him in sickness, and only in sickness.
Having met in 2011, Pete and Julie got married two years later. He was determined to walk her down the aisle. With his soon-to-be wife on the left and his brother to help him stand on the right, the actions behind the vows depict to me the true essence of love, commitment and gut-wrenching dedication. They’ve gained a definitive perspective on what life truly means and what love really requires. It was the humanity of a woman in love, who could have easily chosen to flee instead of fight, which brought momentum to the ice bucket challenge. You see, when we have a permanent and sacrificial believer in the gold stored within us, we can take on the world.
Every person who dabbled with hypothermia these past few weeks took a moment to think about not just ALS, but how to keep their promises, regardless of how torturous it may be. As Mrs Frates waits to give birth to a new life, her husband’s fight to make a difference is established not just in a viral phenomenon, but in telling his wife how grateful he is for her full-time care, even if it is echoed through the monotone sounds of a thought-controlled computer.
As Frates’ mind sharpens more than ever before, his perspective has shifted to the ultimate gratitude from nourishment implemented by nil-by-mouth contraptions and the ability to still see his wife’s supple skin to being loved no matter the ailment, being loved with gentleness for who he really is, being loved from the bottom of a soul, dispelling the popular culture of picking and choosing what we want to commit to.
The paradox of this marriage is in the fact that one person being ready to die for another brings life. As Schwartz echoed W H Auden’s famous phrase: “Love each other or perish”, so we too should not only do what we can to eradicate ALS, but we should remind ourselves that death cannot wipe out the very thing that keeps every man really alive: love.
As you fill dust cans with more ice, more hope, let’s not wait for our own time to learn life’s lesson. Because for some of us it will be too late to learn what Schwartz counted as the most important thing in life: “To learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”
That’s something I’m willing to exchange my jumbo jar of Skippy peanut butter for.
No mediation necessary.
Words by Carrie Lloyd