Once a year, I walk in the Out of Darkness walk to raise awareness about something we still don’t want to talk about, which is suicide. The number of people that I’ve walked with over the years never has lessened, only increased with each passing year. This tells me that more people are learning about the walk and unfortunately, more lives are ended far too soon and too many hearts are left with holes that will never again be filled and questions that have no answers and anger, sorry, regret, and a million other emotions that are part and parcel of great loss and a light extinguished far too soon. So I got a t-shirt this last walk and I wear it because once a year is great for raising awareness but every day is better and honestly, it’s a seriously comfortable shirt that fits me well, so there’s an added bonus.
Today I wore the shirt when I went to the auction in Roseville and while I was there, walking around just absorbing the sheer amount of stuff of every possible size and color an older couple approached me and the gentleman commented that he liked my shirt.
I stopped and we started talking and he said he had a story for me. You all know how much I love a story, so I was ready for whatever tale he had.
Here is his story as best I can recall.
One night, I was sitting at my kitchen table with 6 bullets, a bottle of Jack (Daniels) and a handgun. I would pour a shot, put a bullet in the chamber, drink the shot and pull the trigger.
First shot, first bullet…click!
Second shot, second bullet…click!
Third shot, third bullet…click!
Fourth shot, fourth bullet…click!
Fifth shot, fifth bullet…click!
Sixth shot, sixth bullet….BOOM!!
The bullet bounced around in my brain for a bit before tearing out my left eye, and did a whole lot of damage in between. I was found a few hours later and taken to the hospital and eventually went septic and developed a brain infection from the bullet wounds, should’ve died at least a half a dozen times, but just didn’t.
Now here I am, 20 years later, 20 years sober and getting my license to be an ordained minister. God didn’t want me to die and I know there are a whole lot of other folks out there that think they want to die, but I’m here to tell them there’s a better way.
Now I am blown away by the ease with which this guy just casually brings me into the darkest time in his life, shares his worst moment and without apology or shame, tells me in the same breath of his redemption. His eyes were filled with emotion, but no tears of sorrow or fear of judgement or regret; they were the eyes of a man who had walked out of the flames of his own personal Hell and now wanted to go back and be a guide to help others find their way. He had taken off his baseball hat and there were a mass of scars and places that had shown just how much damage that one bullet had done trying to grant his wish.
The woman that was with him (I never did clarify their relationship but clearly she was familiar with his story) asked me what I do for a living and I told her I was an office worker and didn’t work for the Foundation (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention AFSP) and had gotten the t-shirt at the annual walk I knew of because a dear friend had suffered such a loss and I walked to honor and remember her son, as well as friends I’ve lost throughout the years to suicide. She was very interested in the walk and told me to come back with some flyers so she could post them around. She and the gentleman I had been speaking with were always out there wanted to keep in touch with me and was thinking they might walk this year for the first time.
After that, I went to the park to walk with another friend and we encountered a very beautiful silver-haired woman walking slowly but steadily with a walking cane. She had overheard our conversation and after greeting each other and talking about what a fine day it was, decided that we should all three walk together and continue our conversation and our visit.
We slowed to her pace and walked together talking about times past, the constant change that is present always in Life and Love, great weather, the benefits of walking and mostly just general conversation, until she asked to sit for a bit. Once we were seated, she motioned to my t-shirt and with a very serious and tight set to her jaw told me that her granddaughter, a beautiful, vibrant soul, the light of her life had committed suicide. She didn’t go into any details, but just said that she had no idea and she felt like she had failed her. We talked for a little while and she also was unaware of the walk and the Foundation but told me she was greatly encouraged to see me wearing a shirt so openly, inviting the conversation and the fact that such a walk existed. We parted with hopes that we would see each other again and walk together and continue our conversation and getting to know each other. I know that my day was better for having spoken with her and I hope she felt the same.
I am amazed and yet not surprised that in the space of less than 3 hours, I met two very different people from two very different walks of life, cultures, religious beliefs and socioeconomic classes, yet they were drawn to me and my shirt by the appearance of suicide in their lives. One had tried and failed first hand and found his own personal salvation and a second chance; one who was loved and wanted and treasured and yet that wasn’t enough had tried and succeeded and (I choose to believe) found peace.
They wanted to tell their stories, but somehow felt that they needed permission or that no one wanted to hear them. So many of us are like that, holding onto the pain possibly because we don’t want to burden others with it, or perhaps we risk being judged or worse, our stories are met with apathy or outright criticism. Pain is pain and suffering is suffering; souls cannot survive on a steady diet of either, much less both.
So thank you to Mr. and Mrs. (I’m assuming) W and Miss R for sharing your stories; thank you for trusting me with your most tender memories and wounds not yet healed. I will remember your stories and will tell them whenever I meet someone who will benefit from their telling.
I will continue to wear my shirt to honor those we have lost, those who are the walking wounded, left behind to try and find a new way to live with pieces and parts of their soul damaged or gone altogether. I will invite the conversation, open the door to a judgement-free place where you can tell me your story, too.
Maybe your story isn’t about suicide, but about feeling like quitting or feeling like no one hears you. Maybe it’s that your body doesn’t fit who you see when you close your eyes or maybe you hurt yourself and you don’t know why but you can’t stop. Maybe when you smile, you know you’re lying but you hope someone will see through the lie and want to hear the true story, with all the pain that can never be truly hidden from eyes that wish to see, that love enough to survive the telling.
Lastly, for those of us who are drawn to the edge every day, peering into the abyss, questioning whether the darkness is really as peaceful and inviting as it appears.
Just pause; take a breath and step back.
This too shall pass.