A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of working the To Write Love on Her Arms booth at the first ever Life is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas. This was more than just a music festival; it seemed to be an attempt to bring us back to the root of why we create and connect to music in the first place. It was more than just fans, fame, and stages; it invited festival-goers to focus on all things that enhance our life—music, food, art, learning—the things that help us to feel, that inspire us to change, and challenge us to grow. In short, the things that help make our lives beautiful.
Tucked away in Charity Lane, we bore witness to countless beautiful lives and stories of discovery, struggle, healing, triumph, sorrow, and joy.
On Saturday, a young girl and her mom stop by to purchase a T-shirt for the girl. They don’t say much until they start to walk away. The young girl lingers and begins to tell us that TWLOHA has meant a lot to her, then hesitates as she decides if she wants to go on. She continues, saying she struggled with self-injury—but every day in school, her friend would write love on her arm.
Community is beautiful.
Later that evening, another mom-and-daughter duo comes up to see us. It’s late in the day, and most of the other booths on Charity Lane have closed up. Stacey* and Taylor* listen intently as Joe explains what TWLOHA stands for. They are quiet, until Taylor says, “That really hits home with us. I lost my dad to suicide.” Her mom adds, “It hasn’t even been a year.” As much as they try to fight it, the tears that have been welling up in their eyes spill over, and we walk around the table to hug them. We embrace longer than is normal for four strangers—like this is the release they’ve been waiting for. Then they proceed to buy shirts for themselves and their family and return to the festival—a weekend trip they’d planned for the two of them.
Healing is beautiful.
On Sunday afternoon, a young, edgy girl with a bleached blonde mohawk prances up to our table and greets me in an excited raspy voice. When I ask her how she heard of TWLOHA, she says frankly, “I heard about TWLOHA after I was in a treatment facility for three days when I tried to ‘off myself.’ I’m glad it didn’t work!” Then she laughs, partly to lighten the mood, but also as a testament to the journey that has taken her from that place to where she finds herself on this day.
New life is beautiful.
As the festival comes to an end on Sunday evening, all of the other charities have closed up, and we’re the last light on at the end of a deserted Charity Lane. We discuss closing up, but Brook* and her friend walk up and thank us for staying open. We instantly connect because she’s from a small beach town north of Los Angeles where my family vacations. Her friend is the one initially drawn to us because she has had a hard struggle with depression, but the more Joe and I talk to Brook, the more she starts to open up about her daughter’s struggles with self-injury.
She says: “My daughter used to self-harm, and you know what she told me? She said, ‘What saved me, Mom, was that you never yelled at me for it.’ And I didn’t. When I knew she was doing it, I would go into her room, and sit on the floor with her, and wrap my legs around her, then slowly wrap my arms around her and just hold her. I never yelled at her or anything. I didn’t know what was the right thing to do; I guess that was just my mother’s instinct. … I don’t even know why I’m telling you this. I just feel like I’ve known you guys forever.”
At this point, tears are slowly rolling down my face, and the three of us hug each other. I fully understand the immensity of Brook’s actions—a powerful statement of love and acceptance offered in those moments of hurt and desperation.
Overcoming shame is beautiful.
These are just a few of the countless moving stories we heard that weekend. As you all know, To Write Love on Her Arms is more than “a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people who struggle with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide” (which I now have memorized); it is a voice that screams “You are worthy!” in a society that is working with all its might to make us believe we are not enough. That, my friends, is powerful and far-reaching. It reaches the grandmother, the stepdaughter, the father, the brother, the high school student, the friend, the wife. It reaches the Cirque du Soleil stage tech who values TWLOHA as an important part of her story; the singer who just heard of TWLOHA, but is stoked on its mission; the twenty-something who has supported TWLOHA since the beginning; the therapist who has decided to re-evaluate herself; the bartender who walked over to see what we were all about, but knows exactly who he needs to tell about TWLOHA; even the security guard posted at the exit near our booth who keeps finding himself drawn to our table.
They are worthy. You are worthy. We are worthy.
It’s a beautiful thing.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals and their stories.