I was always envious of Pete Frates. That may sound like a weird thing to admit, but it’s true. Certainly not of his battle with ALS, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But of his grace, his bravery, and his impact. I don’t think we get illnesses to teach us lessons, or because we’re being punished. I think that life just happens, and all of us have our own hardships to deal with. Admittedly, some of us have to deal with much more than others, but we all have our burdens to bear. Yet some people are able to respond to those challenges in remarkable and inspirational ways. Pete was one of them.
I never met Pete, but I felt like I could have. He lived in Beverly, MA, where a good friend of mine used to live and where I’ve spent a lot of time. I still spend many summer days on Good Harbor beach in nearby Gloucester where the “Plunge for Pete” takes place every year on December 28, Pete’s birthday. And, of course, I was one of the millions who donated and took part in the original Ice Bucket Challenge, which was launched in the summer of 2014, and raised an astonishing $115M.
Upon my diagnosis with PD, I fairly quickly turned from “Woe is me!” to “What can I do to help?” I always say that fundraising for the Michael J. Fox Foundation is the best, most selfish thing I have ever done. Because obviously I want to cure PD for everyone, and not just me. (And don’t think I won’t be the first in line if we ever find a cure.) Pete inspired such compassion and giving that he has forever transformed the research landscape for ALS. The anthropologist Margaret Mead sagely wrote,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
I can only hope that I’ll have one-hundredth of the impact that Pete has had on the world, and on the illness he faced with such tenacity.
A Pete Frates comes along once in a generation, if that. Someone to make us feel less alone, no matter what we are battling. As his mother Nancy said at a vigil in his honor just last night, “To those who are looking at adversity straight in the eye, take a page from Pete’s notebook. Be Brave. Be Courageous. And Lend a Hand.”
I hope I can rise to that challenge. Godspeed Pete.