ERIN DONOVAN

Glimpsing the good of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Posted Aug. 31, 2014, at 6:03 a.m.
Erin Donovan
Erin Donovan

At first I was relieved that I wasn’t nominated to take the Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis Ice Bucket Challenge. I don’t like subjecting myself to even mild discomfort, which I assumed to be widely known amongst my friends and figured the basis for their not inviting me to participate.

Then my Facebook feed clogged with nothing but videos of friends and colleagues overturning buckets of icy water over their heads in the name of philanthropy, and I started to notice people who seem even less interested than I in being uncomfortable were willingly — gleefully even — making themselves really uncomfortable by doing it. It made me long for their usual traffic updates and lamentations over how to properly do Disney World.

I watched video after video, fast-forwarding through the giggling monologues to the parts where the dumper of water would surely declare me the next dumper of water. Certain that one of my old bosses, or my cousin, or that girl I avoided all week at a yoga retreat would dare me to boldly go where every single person with a sink and an ethernet cord had gone before.

In fact, I started to worry that I might be nominated more than once and that I’d have to devise alternate endings to each ice bucket video, like a choose your own adventure book. Now Erin dumps a bucket of cobras over her head!

But that didn’t happen. Because no one nominated me at all. I tried to assuage my bruised pride with reassurances that my friends and family have probably seen me tip at restaurants and thereby assume I won’t bother donating to charities. They perhaps knew that my crippling fear of public toilets prevents me from consuming water so dousing myself with it is really asking for trouble. They probably remembered that I once participated in an ALS 5K race, in which I really paid my dues by coming in dead last. Maybe they thought I’m the sort of person who wouldn’t want to do something foolish over the internet. Unlikely, my mother snorted.

I vowed to stop watching the videos since they were starting to chafe my self-worth, but to avoid watching them was like trying to avoid reading about the latest crisis in the Middle East. There’s nothing else to look at!

I found myself clicking them unconsciously, their centripetal pull too great to escape. On the toilet, at the stove, in the sleepless hours of the dark. I watched on, convinced that they were all nominating me by verbal proclamation because they didn’t know how to tag my name through Facebook. It was up to me to suss out my own nomination or else forever live in the long shadow of shame that would come with breaking the viral momentum.

As the water streamed down their stunned faces, my anger fumed at the realization that yet another video had left me on the bench. My frustration grew irrational and unreasonable. My friend’s adopted baby who I have never met didn’t nominate me! My old roommate’s Labradoodle didn’t think to call me out! Jerks!

I figured I needed to change my kismet, so I donated to the ALS Association of my own accord. I made my donation online and then went for a walk to distract myself from watching Ice Bucket Challenge videos on my computer by watching Ice Bucket Challenge videos on my phone.

While walking and watching, I realized that the challenge had its merit beyond the obvious mechanisms of raising funds and awareness. It had made people do something that they wouldn’t otherwise do. It made a guy I never heard once talk in high school make a speech for all of the Internet to see. It made a girl I never glimpsed with a hair out of place appear soggy and unkempt before us all. It made a family I rarely see spend time together do something that made them all laugh and chase each other around their yard. And it made me donate to a charity that I hadn’t much thought of before.

While I am still outraged that my friend’s unbelievably self-centered dogs and babies didn’t nominate me, I feel content that I contributed to the mission. And that I did it in dry pants.

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