A couple weeks ago, the spring 2014 intern team had the privilege of accompanying the TWLOHA staff to the AFSP’s annual Out of the Darkness walk in Orlando, FL. The grey skies threatened rain as we distanced ourselves from the coast, but as we sleepily shambled out of the TWLOHA van, the sun broke through the dark eastern skies to greet us.
I honestly had no idea what to expect. It was one week into our internship, and we were already being pushed out of the nest for this event. While we set up our tent and unpacked merch, we were among few other faces on the lawn, and our little black tent did not have many others around it. I began to worry I had been so excited about the walk that I had gotten my hopes up about it. We set up the table and waited.
As I chewed my dry bagel and sipped overpriced coffee, I watched the field fill with people. Dozens and dozens, hundreds, all wearing colorful beads, some with colorful shirts. I held my own blue and green beads in my hand, gripping them tighter every time I saw a new face with those same beads.
In case you’ve never been to an AFSP walk and are just hearing of it for the first time on this blog, the AFSP hands out beads at these walks, and each colored bead represents a different way that suicide has affected your life. They represent that you’ve lost a child or a parent. Some represent the loss of a friend or military member. Some represent a personal struggle.
TWLOHA often presents this beautiful idea that stories are meant for sharing. That everyone’s stories are meant to continue. That we all stand together.
Somehow, without words, we were all invited into the same story on the dew-covered lawn that day. We could look around us and see we were surrounded by other stories. Without speaking, we could see that someone had survived suicidal thoughts or had lost their sister, or spouse, or friend. The memorial boards showed pictures of lost neighbors, parents, siblings, children. Families wore shirts showing the faces of loved ones. And we all wore beads. We were all, at least for those short few hours, one story. One conversation. One heart, beating beautiful love for all those around us.
We talk a lot at TWLOHA about walking with others in their struggles. Showing them they aren’t alone on their journey. I realized how powerful an idea that was as we walked. Sure, we were literally walking with others, but the concept is the same.
What if every day was like that dim Saturday morning? What if we were open and honest with our stories? What if we reached out and showed love for every face around us, just because they exist in the same space? What if we were open to the idea that our stories are intertwined with the stories of all those around us? That we are not alone, and we can help others know that too?
What if no new faces were ever added to those memorial boards?
I encourage you to seek out the AFSP walks in your area this year, even if suicide seems to have never impacted your life. Show others they don’t walk alone. Become part of someone else’s story. Walk out of the darkness and lead others into the light. Show others that healing is possible, that hope is so very real, and that not one of us is ever alone.
—Ty Johnson, TWLOHA Spring 2014 Intern