Last night was a pretty awesome experience for many reasons. My cousin, Sam, & I participated in a 16 mile overnight walk through the city of Boston, put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The event was called: “Out Of The Darkness.”
It was awesome for a # of reasons – 1) we got a chance to experience a # of messages that binds us all, & at the same time 2) we got to experience so much we can learn from & improve upon in this space.
First, some of the incredible parts: People from all over the country came (there are only 2 walks each year), & t-shirts showed the pictures &/or names of loved ones lost, that individuals or groups were walking for. Some were walking on behalf of those who we fortunately have not lost, but have been touched by suicide. My cousin’s daughter attempted 2x & fortunately is still with us. There was a beauty (within the sadness) in ppl walking FOR others.
As we walked, we got to see all of Boston & it was a beautiful site to see a line of 2,500, all w blinking red lights (so cars could see us), lined up one after the other in unison around such an important topic.
When we finished the 16 miles, lined around the stadium we returned to, were lighted bags w candles in them, w messages to loved ones lost. The messages were beautiful & heart-wrenching at the same time. In fact, my favorite activation of the whole night, some of the bags were lined up in the stadium bleachers, spelling out “HOPE,” & in this space, I can’t imagine a more appropriate word to end on.
Now, some of the parts that felt like there was a miss (& at least when forming an opinion on how in the world we are going to curb & then end this epidemic, I feel needs to be highlighted):
Right from the get-go walkers were asked to go to the “bead station” & pick out the bead color for how they/their group were affected by suicide (see next pic slide). One color for a sibling lost. Another for a parent. Another for an attempt of your own. Etc.
That theme continued in the opening ceremony where representatives in those same “buckets” were called on stage, to represent a story for each different color. To be fair, there was one attempt to ask the folks in the field, to put a beaded necklace on someone next to them – but it may have been someone they were already walking with.
What this led to was a walk of 16 miles, where individuals &/or groups kept to themselves. Sam & I came (yes we wanted to bond more w each other), but we wanted to also bond with others, & come together. There was none of that on the course (at least from what we experienced). I/we understand, you often walk & take part in ceremony specifically for the person(s) you’ve lost.
But there was a miss. This is a community – a large one, affected by suicide. 40k+ die of suicide in the US alone, each year. Suicide in an of itself is a bucket that’s already separated from society. It’s a topic we don’t feel comfortable talking openly about. And yet, last night, buckets were created within buckets. It felt separating instead of camaraderie building, around a cause where we need to hold hands.
I’m not one for calling out short falls without some ideas for solutions, so here goes. Why use the diff beads? Why not hand out a rainbow of beads to EVERYONE? You can still say what they stand for, but show we are all unified & together in this battle.
Why not, instead of a single bead exchange, encourage a formal welcome where one group introduced themselves to another & asked who they are walking on behalf of, & to keep their spirit alive, tell them about that beautiful sole that was lost. Wouldn’t that foster community & more discussion on the walk…while still being able to honor your loved one?
Overall, incredible experience, & I applaud that AFSP for their work, & the 2,500 who braved the long track. The details of how we come together on this topic are so important. Some were nailed last night. Some need to be worked on. But, at least progress was made & it was an honor to be a part of.