Michael Obel-Omia: Ice Bucket Challenge heats up social media, urge to do good deed

Published: August 24, 2014 01:00 AM

The Providence Journal

Michael C. Obel-Omia

I’m sopping wet. Like thousands of people, I have taken the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and, I must admit, I feel great (cold, but great). I took the challenge because I wanted to raise awareness of and contribute money to combating this awful disease.

For the uninitiated, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a social media phenomenon, primarily on Facebook and Instagram, in which someone posts a video of him/herself dumping a bucket of ice water over his/her head, then tagging at least three more people to take the challenge or donate to the ALS Association, which fights Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Then the ice rains down, eliciting laughter and squeals of shock and joy.

The shock is obvious: even on a hot summer day — I think that it was 83 degrees when I did it — ice water stuns the senses. The joy, however, is more complicated and worthy of note.

Being raised Roman Catholic, in the shadow of my church, I have always understood and embraced the edict from Luke: “For to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

I remember scrubbing the floors of my church with Murphy’s oil and polishing the pews with Old English or Pledge. The smells of those products are still with me, and on the rare occasion I perform those chores at home, I am transported back to the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Albany. I also remember working in the church’s soup kitchen, and continuing that work all through high school.

In college and soon after, I was self-indulgent and had forgotten my charitable roots, until I started working at a school in Boston that firmly believed and promoted those words from Luke: they were inscribed in a frieze above the refectory. Daily, as we ate, we were reminded that to those of us who were so pleased to be at that school, much was expected.

That constant reminder led me to serve on numerous boards of trustees, complete several century rides for the Rodman Ride for Kids, run the Boston Marathon, cycle across the country to raise awareness of and funds for Nets for Life, ride in the Pan-Mass Challenge, and do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Each one of these events, almost always physically grueling, demanded that I look within and beyond myself to improve my world.

Some naysayers have disparaged the challenge, complaining that pouring a bucket over one’s head does little to raise awareness; instead, it is just a social media stunt that has quickly lost its true meaning, morphing into a macho exercise.

I think that there will always be an opportunity for well-meaning challenges, events or stunts to lose their original meaning, but so far, people’s willingness to cover themselves in ice has increased awareness of this disease incredibly, and boosted donations.

In The Merchant of Venice, Portia returns home after saving the life of her husband’s dear friend. As she sees a light shining in her window, she remarks, “How far that little candle throws his beams! / So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” Each one of us, regardless of our chosen communities or means, has an opportunity to shine a beam of light, often one ice cube at a time.

Michael C. Obel-Omia is a father and husband, educator and student, cycling enthusiast and baseball fan. He lives in Barrington.


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