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posted: 7/13/2014 1:01 AM

Editorial: Choosing gratitude and courage over pain and sorrow

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  • ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTOIn this file photo, Yankees' great Lou Gehrig wipes away a tear while delivering his "Luckiest Man" speech during a tribute 75 years ago this month at Yankee Stadium in New York.

      ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTOIn this file photo, Yankees' great Lou Gehrig wipes away a tear while delivering his "Luckiest Man" speech during a tribute 75 years ago this month at Yankee Stadium in New York.

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

We used to work with an editor named Audrey Howard, a wonderful woman who brought a delicious smile to all she did.

She died six years ago, but she never lost that smile.

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While she was battling the disease that would kill her, Audrey said more than once, "I'm grateful for my cancer."

Can you imagine? Only 47. Wracked with cancer. And she was grateful.

So many people, she explained, showed her so much love that she wouldn't have realized existed had she not been stricken with cancer.

What a blessing she was. We think of her still. And of that gratitude. And that smile.

We viewed it then, and now, as courage in the face of adversity. But as time has gone on, we've recognized courage is only a part of what her attitude represented.

Earlier this month, Major League Baseball commemorated the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's famous "Luckiest Man" speech, delivered before 62,000 at Yankee Stadium with his teammates on the field after Gehrig was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis:

"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 this earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. 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."

It is one of the greatest speeches in the history of sport, a dying man reflecting not on his tragedy but on all of his blessings.

We've listened to that speech many times, or at least to Gary Cooper's Hollywood version of it, and we've viewed it then, and now, as courage in the face of adversity. But it is, when you think about it, something more than that.

In one of the suburbs' most unspeakable horrors, 57-year-old Alan Engelhardt of Hoffman Estates, his 18-year-old daughter Laura and his 73-year-old mother Marlene Gracek were stabbed to death in 2009.

At the sentencing hearing last week for D'Andre Howard, Engelhardt's widow Shelly expressed the family's resolve:

"I stand here now to let you know that good has triumphed over evil once more. The wounds and pain that you inflicted on us have not weakened our family and will not define our future. We have the gifts of faith and wisdom from my mother, compassion and caring from my husband and integrity and bravery from my daughter. How they lived and what they gave to and did for others is the legacy we will carry forth."

We have such admiration for the Engelhardts. What courage in the face of adversity. And ultimately, not just that. Something more.

We all know people who tend to see the sorrows but seldom the joys, who tend to blame others for every misfortune while never accepting responsibility when things go wrong.

These are not just negative people. They are unhappy people.

To be sure, life isn't always fair. It isn't always easy. No one makes it through without some share of hardship, pain and injustice. That's just an inevitable part of the journey.

But almost 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote, "It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters."

If we could leave only one piece of advice for our children, that just might be it.

Well, let's make it two pieces of advice and add this: Be grateful. Recognize all the blessings you have and give thanks for them. We aren't owed any of it. All of it is a gift.

In the end, it's not the blessings that make you happy; it's the thankfulness.

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