GELASON: The Gift of Suffering



By John Bucher (@johnkbucher)

Steve Gleason offers you a gift in the new documentary that bears his name. He offers access to the most intimate parts of his difficult journey. He offers humor throughout it all. But most importantly, he offers a mirror with which to examine yourself. What does kindness, compassion and love truly mean in your own life? Gleason acts as a tour guide for considering these personal thoughts and challenges us to consider the things that really matter.


Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said, “The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” Steve Gleason is one of the most beautiful people you will ever discover in a darkened movie theater. Though well-known in the sports world, Gleason may not be a familiar figure to those without a subscription to ESPN. However, his story and journey transcends the world of professional football. Even those with no interest in the NFL will be unable to resist the power of Gleason’s story and charisma.


As moving as they are, Gleason’s losses after being diagnosed with ALS are not what make his story most compelling. Instead it’s Gleason’s spirit that continues to shine long after he’s unable to move his vocal chords. Shortly after receiving his diagnosis, his wife becomes pregnant. He records more than 1500 hours of video, giving advice, humor and random thoughts to his child to be used in the event that Gleason isn’t around or won’t be able to communicate with him. His gift to his son becomes a gift for us as well. He documents his good days, his bad days, and days that just seem to pass. In Gleason’s journey, we experience life in all its joys, terrors, and deep pain.


C.S. Lewis once said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Steve’s wife, Michel, tends to the pain in ways both profound and human. Her resolve at filling her marriage vows in sickness and in health are humbling to anyone having walked down that aisle. The film is just as much Michel’s story as it is Steve’s. The inspiration we walk away with is as much to her credit as her husbands.


The best stories get at the most universal and core questions. Who are we? Why are we here? What does it mean to be human? This story offers glimpses into these questions. Director, Clay Tweel’s access to the family, both in significant moments and in emotional vulnerability is stunning. The effects of the story he tells transcend the few moments we spend watching in the theater. We are left to consider ourselves, our own journey, and the opportunities we have to be kind, to show compassion, and to love.


Gleason opens in select theater on July 29.