I don’t revisit it often anymore, but it will always be a part of me: the moment when the world turned dark and every part of me wanted to die. But when the time came, I just sat there. It seemed I was “too much of a coward” to even take my life. I felt the world would be a better place without me, that people would be happier, and the greatest gift I could give the world would be to take myself out of it. “Am I too selfish for even that?” I wondered.
A ringing phone, a jarring of consciousness … I answered. Another voice stilled my hands, stilled my mind, at least for the night.
I was a self-injurer, as I can figure now. However, I didn’t know back then what self-injury was, that sometimes the only way people think they can still the pain of this world is to cause more pain. For me, it seemed like a moment of control, and I didn’t know how to deal with anything when I stopped self-harming. So I took it out on my friends, and I took it out on myself. I would sit in my room and my mind would fade to darkness as I contemplated death.
A month after I came within an inch of killing myself, I received another life-changing phone call. It was a friend of a friend asking if I wanted to go to Africa to work with kids. They knew nothing about me or my past. I was fresh out of college, working a job I did not love. So I just decided, “Why not?” The next summer, I went to Africa for two months, with no idea what I was doing.
I don’t really know if I accomplished anything on my first trip to Rwanda. I met many street children and heard many stories of genocide. I didn’t really have any idea of how I could help them. But while I was there, I received a deep, profound love. In sharing my story, my past, and my secrets, I found grace, not judgment, in people and in God. A grace that accepted me where I was and called me to be what I was made for. It moved deep within my soul until I realized I wanted to live the rest of my life to be even a taste of that love to children in Rwanda, children no one seemed to care about. If that was all I had to offer this world, that would be a life well lived.
Since that time, I have been able to start an organization with some dear friends in Rwanda. We use sports to reach out to forgotten children and begin the process of showing them love, helping them to find a vision for their future when so many have said they would never amount to anything. It has been absolutely stunning and beautiful to watch the lives of the children transform, to see them become human again—just as I once did.
We have also started a soccer academy. Some of the kids come from the streets, some of them from elsewhere. But I know without a shadow of a doubt, if we had not been there for them in their time of need, some of them would be dead. I have seen thieves use skills they once used to rob others to compete on the soccer field. I have heard boys who once said they had no ambition but to get drunk and high tell me they would like to use sports to get other youth off of the streets one day. I have seen young men who could have died become potential professional soccer players, in less than a year’s time. Who knows how many lives will be transformed because of these boys and what they will do?
I do not share this to brag, but rather to say: I once believed my life had nothing to offer the world—and I know better now.
You don’t have to go to Africa for your life to have meaning, and you don’t have to start a non-profit. But just to be even a taste of that love for other people—that is enough. Let me be the first to say, your life is worth more than you could ever dream.
Brian Beckman is the Founder and Director at Play For Hope. To find out more about the organization, you can visit www.playforhope.org.