Last June, I joined the To Write Love on Her Arms team as the new Editor. Since then, I’ve spent countless hours poring over the words of others, trimming, arranging, and perfecting them for an organization where words matter very much. I’ve immersed myself in the language, the research, and the stories of mental health. I’ve had email correspondences, posted blogs, and read articles that have quite honestly changed my life, and hopefully the lives of others.
It’s been a busy and rewarding year, and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities and relationships this position has brought me. But one thing I had yet to do, until recently, was represent TWLOHA in person at an event. When a chance arose for me to do this at a festival in Atlanta, I was both eager and nervous for the experience—and had no real idea what it would be like. Writing about these issues is one thing, and I’ve gotten pretty used to that. But standing under a banner and candidly inviting those conversations would prove to be a new and different challenge for me—and one I am now better for having undertaken.
Within minutes of setting up the booth on the first day, a young girl approached the table, slowly. I greeted her, but she was silent at first. I then noticed her eyes were glassy with tears. I waited, and finally, she said, “I’m trying to figure out how to put this … because this organization has saved my life.”
The story she then told me was not unlike some I have read about before or would hear later throughout the three-day festival. But it was also uniquely hers, and the moment in which she entrusted me with it was uniquely ours. There is something about witnessing an individual’s search for the right phrases, looking into their eyes, shaking hands, or hugging shoulders that makes our stories come alive in a way that is overwhelmingly real and unforgettable. There is an intimacy in that immediacy.
There were many I spoke with after this young woman: addicts who were a few months or a few decades into their recovery, mothers and fathers desperate to find help for their child, teenagers with bright smiles and fading scars, men and women who were still reeling from their parents’ failures, victims of the kind of bullying and abuse that nobody deserves, individuals who had miraculously managed to survive themselves. And somehow, I was the one with the privilege of speaking to them. Somehow, our separate lives had intersected on a humid afternoon under a TWLOHA tent so that I could look at them and say, “I am so glad you are here. I am so glad you are alive. I am so glad you are getting better. I am so glad to have met you.”
As a writer and editor, I am passionate about the right words, in the right format, with the right spelling and punctuation. But somewhere between June 2012 and June 2013, I developed an appreciation for the fumbled words, the fragile words that have never been uttered before, the angry or honest words of a person who cares less about how they sound and more about just being heard. I found value even in the unspoken words, the things there aren’t words for, the sentiments that can only be communicated through heartfelt nods and a firm hand on a shoulder. They’re not always pretty, rarely perfect or “right,” but they are a living, breathing poetry all their own. I will treasure them always. And maybe, sometimes, I will write about them.