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Talk in honor of Lou Gehrig

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Here is a talk in honor of Lou Gerig given by Tony Vitale, primary
architect/linguist of the Dectalk.

From  Fri Aug 11 12:58:07 1995

                        Dr. Anthony J. Vitale
                        Honorary Chairman
                        Lou Gehrig's Day
                        Fenway Park - July 23, 1995

I am honored to have been chosen as Honorary Chairman of Gehrig's Day
at Fenway Park. I have ALS. This day is dedicated to Lou Gehrig.  He
also had ALS. I would like this audience to know that I am neither
angry not depressed nor sad. The soul seems to create situations for
itself in life so that it can learn from them and grow. Sometimes,
illness can be just the situation that enables us to make changes in
our lives. It provides the needed space, the emptiness, the silence
that, it seems, must occur before creativity is free to operate. The
emptiness seems to act like a vacuum, pulling the needed experience to

Illness can be a magnificent opportunity to become a whole person.  I
always felt I needed to learn certain skills in order to become a
happier and more complete and fulfilled individual. Skills like
patience, greater trust of my fellow man, humility, understanding and
acceptance of my own imperfection. I have begun to learn and to
practice these skills since my diagnosis in the summer of 1993.  There
is nothing like tragedy or destruction to quickly push one along to
learn something new when everything is taken away. You can start all
over again. The slate is wiped clean.

My wife Jeanine does a lot of gardening. She loves to watch things
grow. However, by late summer, she becomes somewhat weary of her
mistakes - mistakes in the placement of plants, the plague of insects,
or the constant watering of plants. I notice that she seems to be
relieved to see Autumn arrive - the first frost wiping out all of her

Then comes the empty winter - a time for dreaming, dreaming anew of
beautiful colors and exciting flowers which my wife has never had the
chance to grow. If winter never came - as happens in warmer climates -
she would never have the chance to start from the beginning. She would
always be trying to add the new while simultaneously dealing with the
old - a much more difficult process. But living in New England as we
do, she greets each Spring with joy, relief, surprise and wonder as
nature unfolds her beauty yet again. She feels sorry in a way, for
those with no winters in their lives. no chance to rest, no chance to
start again - unfettered - no hope of Spring to sustain them. I've
always wanted to move to a warmer climate - one in which there is no
winter.  But now I'm beginning to understand my wife's reluctance.
There is no change, no new beginning. This horrible disease called ALS
is like the Winter. It is in one sense a death - but in another a hope
of renewal.

I'd like to quote a brief excerpt from a free-form poem by Howard
Nemerov. "That trees, the largest of living things, are initially
contained in tiny seeds, is already a spectacularly visible legend of
the mysteries of generation and death. The tree, rooted in earth and
flowering in heaven, intimates obscure and powerful reflexive
propositions about the two realms; that root and top strangely mirror
one another deepens and complicates the human analogy ...  I shall be
like that tree." Swift once said to Edward Young, "I shall die first
at the top."

Now that I have only perhaps a few more years to live, I've been
working harder than ever before. And I intend to keep working hard
until it's impossible to lift my hands. And then I will use a speech
recognizer to do my work until I can't speak. And then I will use a
speech synthesizer to communicate with my co-workers, family and
friends. So the reason why this day is so important, Ladies and
Gentleman, is that if we are able, in the process of making money and
gaining fame, to help one person like myself, then all our lives will
have been worth it. John Donne said, No man is an Island, entire of
itself. Every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the maine ...
we are all connected.

I'd like to end by repeating a sentence from a famous individual. I
use this sentence because due to this illness, I have met the most
wonderful people: compassionate physicians, acquaintances who turned
out to be close friends, family members who have been extremely
supportive. The sentence is from Lou Gehrig at his final address in
Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939: I consider myself "the luckiest man on
the face of the earth."

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