Early morning before the Toledo walk, a few weeks ago
I was a senior in high school the first time I ever walked for a cause. I don't remember the cause, but I think it had something to do with hunger. I don't remember the route, but it was somewhere in western Massachusetts. What I do remember is that we walked 20 miles and my big toenails turned black and fell off.
Forty-three years later, I could not hop out of bed on a Saturday morning and walk 20 miles! But I can walk the three or so Out of the Darkness miles for suicide prevention tomorrow, despite a still-healing ankle that slows me down and a tender tendon which I have come to accept as a permanent fact of life.
In between? Two previous of these walks. One last year for Diversity Day here in downtown Cleveland ~ that was a lively, colorful, sunny morning. One down to the lake long ago to support the Museum of Natural History, where I volunteered for years. A Komen walk the year my daughter's Girl Scout troop walked to earn a badge. Same place as we will be tomorrow. Those are the walks which come to mind at the moment.
I'm feeling a bit wistful this morning. It took my own experience with breast cancer to nudge me into suicide prevention work ~ grasping what all that pink had accomplished in terms of public awareness, research money, and reduction of stigma. But this is harder. I have tremendous support from my various online communities, where many people have read my blog for years, but few of my friends here at home come out. I muttered something some weeks ago about the weekly summer evenings given over to a friend's birthday preparations, and people can't come up with one morning for this. "Mom!" exclaimed my son, "A 60th birthday party versus a walk focused on suicide ~ where do you THINK people are going to go?"
Truthfully, this walk has the potential to be a lot of fun -- although the steady cold rain last year and its return predicted for tomorrow quite possibly produce(d) more misery than fun. Some people hug and cry ~ as they do at Komen events ~ but most people talk and laugh and feel a lot of energy around the ability to DO something, which was not an option for us when it mattered most.
The money? Our little AFSP* chapter, entirely volunteer-run, is less than a year old, from an official point of view. But several of us have been to Washington to lobby for mental health legislation. And we are launching an effort to educate first responders in suicide awareness -- a major urban police force is eager to make our training event a quarterly opportunity. We are on our way.
I wonder sometimes what Josh would say. His father and brother don't say much. His sister has been writing a series of daily FB vignettes, lovely memories of her brother. I think Josh would roll his eyes and make a droll joke, because if he were here he would have no idea that depression can run a person down as swiftly and surely as a locomotive can.
I had no idea, either. And maybe that's, in the end, really why we walk. It is of some comfort to spend a morning with others who get it, in the most powerful kind of way.
*The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is the nation's pre-eminent non-profit organization addressing suicide prevention through research, advocacy, and education. Community walks take place across the country all fall, and campus walks all spring.